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" The Decay and the Restoration of C'viliza- 
tion " is the first part of a complete philosophy of 
civilization with which I have been occupied since 
the year 1900. 

The second part, entitled " Civilization and 
Ethics", will appear immediately. The third is 
caUed "The World-View* of Reverence for Life". 
The fourth has to do with the civilized State. 

That over which I have toiled since 1900 has been 
finally ripened in the stillness of the primeval forest 
of Equatorial Africa. There, during the years 
1 9 14-17, the clear and definite lines of this philo- 
sophy of civilization have been developed. 

The first part, " The Decay and the Restoration 
of Civilization", is a kind of introduction to the 
philosophy of civilization. It states the problem of 

Entering on the question as to what is the real 
essential nature of civilization, I come to the pro- 
nouncement that this is ultimately ethical. ' I know 
that in thus stating the problem as a moral one I 

* Weltanschauung. Translated ' theory of the universe ' throughout 
the first part and elsewhere in this preface. 



shall surprise and even disgust the spirit of our 
times, which is accustomed to move amidst aesthetic, 
historical and material considerations. I imagine, 
however, that I am myself enough of an artist and 
also of an historian to be able to comprehend the 
aesthetic and historical elements in civilization, and 
that, as a modern physician and surgeon, I am suffi- 
ciently modern to appreciate the glamour of the 
technical and material attainments of our age. 

Notwithstanding this, I have come to the convic- 
tion that the aesthetic and the historical elements, 
and the magnificent extension of our material know- 
ledge and power, do not themselves form the essence 
of civilization, but that this depends on the mental 
disposition of the individuals and nations who exist 
in the world. All other things are merely accom- 
panying circumstances of civilization, which have 
nothing to do with its real essence. 

Creative, artistic, intellectual, and material attain- 
ments can only show their full and true effects when 
the continued existence and development of civiliza- 
tion have been secured by founding civilization 
itself on a mental disposition which is truly ethical. 
It is only in his struggle to become ethical that man 
comes to possess real value as a personality ; it is 
only under the influence of ethical convictions that 
the various relations of human society are formed 
in such a way that individuals and peoples can 



develop in an ideal manner. If the ethical founda- 
tion is lacking, then civilization collapses, even 
when in other directions creative and intellectual 
forces of the strongest nature are at work. 

This moral conception of civilization, which makes 
me almost a stranger amidst the intellectual life of 
my time, I express clearly and unhesitatingly, in 
order to arouse amongst my contemporaries reflec- 
tion as to what civilization really is. We shall not 
succeed in re-establishing our civilization on an 
enduring basis until we rid ourselves completely of 
the superficial concept of civilization which now 
holds us in thrall, and give ourselves up again to 
the ethical view which obtained in the eighteenth 

The second point which I desire should obtain 
currency is that of the connection between civiliza- 
tion and our theory of the universe. At the present 
time no regard is paid to this connection. In fact, 
the period in which we are living altogether misses 
the significance of having a theory of the universe. 
It is the common conviction nowadays, of educated 
and uneducated alike, that humanity will progress 
quite satisfactorily without any theory of the 
universe at all. 

The real fact is that all human progress depends 
on progress in its theory of the universe, whilst, 
conversely, decadence is conditioned by a similar 



decadence in this theory. Our loss of real civiliza- 
tion is due to our lack of a theory of the universe. 

Only as we again succeed in attaining a strong and 
worthy theory of the universe, and find in it strong 
and worthy convictions, shall we again become 
capable of producing a new civilization. It is this 
apparently abstract and paradoxical truth of which 
I proclaim myself the champion. 

Civilization, put quite simply, consists in our 
giving ourselves, as human beings, to the effort to 
attain the perfecting of the human race and the 
actualization of progress of every sort in the cir- 
cumstances of humanity and of the objective world. 
This mental attitude, however, involves a double 
predisposition : firstly, we must be prepared to act 
affirmatively toward the world and life ; secondly, 
we must become ethical. 

Only when we are able to attribute a real meaning 
to the world and to life shall we be able also to give 
ourselves to such action as will produce results of 
real value. As long as we look on our existence in 
the world as meaningless, there is no point whatever 
in desiring to effect anything in the world. We 
become workers for that universal spiritual and 
material progress which we call civilization only in 
so far as we affirm that the world and life possess 
some sort of meaning, or, which is the same thing, 
only in so far as we think optimistically. 


Civilization originates when men become inspired 
by a strong and clear determination to attain pro- 
gress, and consecrate themselves, as a result of this 
determination, to the service of life and of the world. 
It is only in ethics that we can find the driving force 
for such action, transcending, as it does, the limits 
of our own existence. 

Nothing of real value in the world is ever accom- 
plished without enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. 

But it is impossible to convince men of the truth 
of world- and life-affirmation and of the real value 
of ethics by mere declamation. The affirmative and 
ethical mentality which characterizes these beliefs 
must originate in man himself as the result of an 
inner spiritual relation to the world. Only then 
will they accompany him as strong, clear, and con- 
stant convictions, and condition his every thought 
and action. 

To put it in another way : world- and life- 
affirmation must be the products of thought about 
the world and life. Only as the majority of indivi- 
duals attain to this result of thought and continue 
under its influence will a true and enduring civiliza- 
tion make progress in the world. Should the mental 
disposition towards world- and life-affirmation and 
towards ethics begin to wane, or become dim and 
obscured, we shall be incapable of working for true 
civilization, nay, more, we shall be unable even to 



form a correct concept of what such civilization 
ought to be. 

And this is the fate which has befallen us. We 
are bereft of any theory of the universe. Therefore, 
instead of being inspired by a profound and power- 
ful spirit of affirmation of the world and of life, we 
allow ourselves, both as individuals and as nations, 
to be driven hither and thither by a type of such 
affirmation which is both confused and superficial. 
Instead of adopting a determined ethical attitude, 
we exist in an atmosphere of mere ethical phrases 
or declare ourselves ethical sceptics. 

How is it that we have got into this state of lack- 
ing a theory of the universe ? It is because hitherto 
the world- and life-affirming and ethical theory of 
the universe had no convincing and permanent 
^ foundation in thought. We thought again and again 
that we had found such a basis for it ; but it lost 
power again and again without our being aware that 
it was doing so, until, finally, we have been obliged, 
for more than a generation past, to resign ourselves 
more and more to a complete lack of any world- 
theory at all. 

. Thus, in this introductory part of my work, I 
proclaim two truths and conclude with a great note 
of interrogation. The truths are the following : 
The basic ethical character of civilization, and the 
connection between civilization and our theories of 



the universe. The question with which I conclude 
is this : Is it at all possible to find a real and per- 
manent foundation in thought for a theory of the 
universe which shall be both ethical and affirmative 
of the world and of life ? 

The future of civilization depends on our over- 
coming the meaninglessness and hopelessness which 
characterize the thoughts and convictions of men 
to-day, and reaching a state of fresh hope and fresh 
determination. We shall be capable of this, how- 
ever, only when the majority of individuals dis- 
cover for themselves both an ethic and a profound 
and steadfast attitude of world- and life-affirmation, 
in a theory of the universe at once convincing and 
based on reflection. 

Without such a general spiritual experience there 
is no possibility of holding our world back from the 
ruin and disintegration towards which it is being 
hastened. It is our duty then to rouse ourselves to 
fresh reflection about the world and life. 

In "Civilization and Ethics", the second part of 
this philosophy of civilization, I describe the road 
along which thought has led me to world- and life- 
affirmation and to ethics. The root-idea of my 
theory of the universe is that my relation to my 
own being and to the objective world is determined 
by reverence for life. This reverence for life is given 
as an element of my will-to-live, and becomes clearly 



conscious of itself as I reflect about my life and about 
the world. In the mental attitude of reverence for 
life which should characterize my contact with all 
forms of life, both ethics and world- and lif e-affirma- 
"^ tion are involved. It is not any kind of insight into 
the essential nature of the world which determines 
my relation to my own existence and to the exist- 
ence which I encounter in the world, but rather 
only and solely my own will-to-live which has 
""developed the power of reflection about itself and 
the world. 

The theory of the universe characterized by 
^ reverence for life is a type of mysticism arrived at 
by self-consistent thought when persisted in to its 
ultimate conclusion. Surrendering himself to the 
guidance of this mysticism, man finds a meaning 
for his life in that he strives to accomplish his own 
spiritual and ethical self-fulfilment, and, simul- 
taneously and in the same act, helps forward all the 
processes of spiritual and material progress which 
have to be actualized in the world. 

I do not know how many, or how few, will allow 
themselves to be persuaded to travel with me on 
the road indicated above. What I desire above all 
things — and this is the crux of the whole affair — is 
that we should all recognize fully that our present 
entire lack of any theory of the universe is the ulti- 
mate source of all the catastrophes and misery of 



our times, and that we should toil in concert for a 
theory of the universe and of life, in order that thus 
we may arrive at a mental disposition which shall 
make us really and truly civilized men. 

It was a great joy to me to be afforded the oppor- 
tunity of putting forward > in the Dale Lectures, 
delivered in Oxford, the views on which this philo- 
sophy of civilization is based. 

I would tender my deepest thanks to my friends, 
Mr. C. T. Campion, M.A., now of Grahamstown, 
South Africa, and Dr. J. P. Naish, of Oxford. Mr. 
Campion is the translator of this first part of the 
" Philosophy of Civilization ". Dr. Naish has seen 
the book through the press and translated this 


Strasbourg, Alsace. 
February, 1923. 




How Philosophy is Responsible for the Collapse 

OF Civilization 


Hindrances to Civilization in our Economic and 

Spiritual Life . . • . , • 15 


Civilization essentially Ethical in Character . 35 

The Way to the Restoration of Civilization . 62 


Civilization and Theories of the Universe . 80 







Our self-deception as to the real conditions of our civilization. The 
collapse of the theory of the universe on which our ideals were based. 
The superficial character of modern philosophizing. 

We are living to-day under the sign of the 
collapse of civilization. The situation has not been 
produced by the war ; the latter is only a mani- 
festation of it. The spiritual atmosphere has 
solidified into actual facts, which again react 
on it with disastrous results in every respect. 
This interaction of material and spiritual has 
assumed a most unhealthy character. Just below 
a mighty cataract we are driving along in a 
current full of formidable eddies, and it will need the 
most gigantic efforts to rescue the vessel of our fate 
from the dangerous side channel into which we have 


allowed it to drift, and bring it back into the mainl] 
stream, if, indeed, we can hope to do so at all. / : 

We have drifted out of the stream oFclvitlzation 
because there was amongst us no real reflection upon 
what civilization is. It is true that at the end of the 
last century and the beginning of this there appeared 
a number of works on civilization with the most 
varied titles ; but, as though in obedience to some 
secret order, they made no attempt to settle and 
make clear the conditions of our intellectual life, but 
devoted themselves exclusively to its origin and 
history. They gave us a relief map of civilization 
marked with roads which men had observed or 
invented, and which led us over hill and dale 
through the fields of history from the Renaissance 
to the twentieth century. It was a triumph for the 
historical sense of the authors. The crowds whom 
these works instructed were filled with satisfied 
contentment when they understood that their 
civilization was the organic product of so many 
centuries of the working of spiritual and social forces, 
but no one worked out and described the content of 
our spiritual life. No one tested its value from the 
point of view of the nobility of its ideas, and its 
ability to produce real progress. 

Thus we crossed the threshold of the twentieth 
century with an unshakable conceit of ourselves, 



and whatever was written at that time about our 
civilization only confirmed us in our ingenuous belief 
in its high value. Anyone who expressed doubt was 
regarded with astonishment. Many, indeed, who 
were on the road to error, stopped and returned to 
the main road again because they were afraid of the 
path which led oif to the side. Others continued 
along the main road, but in silence ; the under- 
standing and insight which were at work in them 
only condemned them to isolation. 

It is clear now to everyone that the suicide of ^ 
civilization is in progress. What yet remains of it 
is no longer safe. It is still standing, indeed, 
because it was not exposed to the destructive pres- 
sure which overwhelmed the rest, but, like the rest, 
is built upon rubble, and the next landslide will 
very likely carry it away. 

But what was it that preceded and led 
up to this loss of power in the innate forces of 
civilization ? 

The age of the lUuminati and of rationalism had 
put forward ethical ideals, based on reason, con- 
cerning the development of the individual to true 
manhood, his position in society, the material and 
spiritual problems which arose out of society, the 
relations of the different nations to each other, and 
their issue in a humanity which should be united in 


the pursuit of the highest moral and spiritual 
objects. These ideals had begun, both in philosophy 
and in general thought, to get into contact with 
reality and to alter the general environment. In 
the course of three or four generations there had 
been such progress made, both in the ideas under- 
lying civilization and in their material embodiment, 
that the age of true civilization seemed to have 
dawned upon the world and to be assured of an 
uninterrupted development. 

But about the middle of the nineteenth century 
this mutual understanding and co-operation between 
ethical ideals and reality began to break down, and 
in the course of the next few decades it disappeared 
more and more completely. Without resistance, 
without complaint, civilization abdicated. Its ideas 
lagged behind, as though they were too exhausted 
to keep pace with it. How did this come about ? 

The decisive element in the production of this 
result was philosophy's renunciation of her duty. 

In the eighteenth century and the early part of the 
nineteenth it was philosophy which led and guided 
thought in general. She had busied herself with 
the questions which presented themselves to man- 
kind at each successive period, and had kept the 



thought of civilized man actively reflecting upon 
them. Philosophy at that time included within 
herself an elementary philosophizing about man, 
society, race, humanity and civilization, which pro- 
duced in a perfectly natural way a living popular 
philosophy that controlled the general thought, and 
maintained the enthusiasm for civilization. 

But that ethical, and at the same time optimistic, 
view of things in which the lUuminati and 
rationalism had laid the foundations of this healthy 
popular philosophy, was unable in the long run to 
meet the criticism levelled at it by pure thought. 
Its naive dogmatism raised more and more prejudice 
against it. Kant tried to provide the tottering 
building with new foundations, undertaking to alter 
the rationalistic view of things in accordance with 
the demands of a deeper theory of knowledge, with- 
out, however, making any change in its essential 
spiritual elements. Goethe, Schiller and other 
intellectual giants of the age, showed, by means of 
criticism both kindly and malicious, that rationalism 
was rather popular philosophy than real philosophy, 
but they were not in a position to put into the place 
of what they destroyed anything new which could 
give the same effective support to the ideas about 
civilization which were current in the general 
thought of the time. 


Fichte, Hegel, and other philosophers, who, for all 
their criticism of rationalism, paid homage to its 
ethical ideals, attempted to establish a similar 
ethical and optimistic view of things by speculative, 
methods, that is by logical and metaphysical discus- 
sion of pure being and its development into a 
universe. For three or four decades they succeeded 
in deceiving themselves and others with this 
supposedly creative and inspiring illusion, and in 
doing violence to reality in the interests of their 
theory of the universe. But at last the natural 
sciences, which all this time had been growing 
stronger and stronger, rose up against them, and, 
with a plebeian enthusiasm for the truth of reality, 
reduced to ruins the magnificent creations of their 

Since that time the ethical ideas on which civili- 
zation rests have been wandering about the world, 
poverty-stricken and homeless. No theory of the 
universe has been advanced which can give them a 
solid foundation ; in fact, not one has made its 
appearance which can claim for itself solidity and 
inner consistency. The age of philosophic dogma- 
tism had come definitely to an end, and after that 
nothing was recognized as truth except the science 
which described reality. General theories of the 
universe no longer appeared as fixed stars ; they 



were regarded as resting on hypothesis, and ranked 
no higher than comets. 

The same weapon which struck down the dogma- 
tism of knowledge about the universe struck down 
also the dogmatic enunciation of spiritual ideas. 
The early simple rationalism, the critical rationalism 
of Kant, and the speculative rationalism of the great 
philosophers of the nineteenth century had all alike 
done violence to reality in two ways. They had 
given a position above that of the facts of science to 
the views which they had arrived at by pure thought, 
and they had also preached a series of ethical ideals 
which were meant to replace by new ones the various 
existing relations in the ideas and the material 
environment of mankind. When the first of these 
two forms of violence was proved to be a mistaken 
one, it became questionable whether the second 
could still be allowed the justification which it had 
hitherto enjoyed. The doctrinaire methods of 
thought which made the existing world nothing but 
material for the production of a purely theoretical 
sketch of a better future were replaced by sympa- 
thetic attempts to understand the historical origin 
of existing things for which Hegel's philosophy had 
prepared the way. 

With a general mentality of this description, a real 
combination of ethical ideals with reality was no 



longer possible ; there was not the freedom from 
prejudice which that required, and so there came a 
weakening of the convictions which were the driving 
power of civilization. So, too, an end was put to, 
that justifiable violence to human convictions and 
circumstances without which the reforming work of 
civilization can make no advance, because it was 
bound up with that other unjustifiable violence to 
reality. That is the tragic element in the psycho- 
logical development of our spiritual life during the 
latter half of the nineteenth century. 

Rationalism, then, had been dismissed ; but with 
it went also the optimistic convictions as to the 
moral meaning of the universe and of humanity, of 
society and of man, to which it had given birth, 
though the conviction still exerted so much influence 
that no attention was paid to the catastrophe which 
had really begun. 

Philosophy did not realize that the power of the 
ideas about civilization which had been entrusted 
to it was becoming a doubtful quantity. At the end 
of one of the most brilliant works on the history of 
philosophy which appeared at the close of the nine- 
teenth century philosophy is defined as the process 
" by which there comes to completion, step by step, 



and with ever clearer and surer consciousness, that 
conviction about the value of civilization the 
universal validity of which it is the object of 
philosophy itself to affirm." But the author has 
forgotten the essential point, viz., that there was a 
time when philosophy did not merely convince itself 
of the value of civilization, but also let its convictions 
go forth as fruitful ideas destined to influence the 
general thought, while from the middle of the nine- 
teenth century onwards these convictions had 
become more and more of the nature of hoarded and 
unproductive capital. 

Once philosophy had been an active worker 
producing universal convictions about civilization. 
Now, after the collapse in the middle of the nine- 
teenth century, this same philosophy had become a 
mere drawer of dividends, concentrating her activi- 
ties far from the world on what she had managed to 
save. She had become a mere science, which sifted 
the results of the historical and natural sciences, and 
collected from them material for a future theory of 
the universe, carrying on with this object in view a 
learned activity in all branches of knowledge. At 
the same time she became more and more absorbed 
in the study of her own past. Philosophy came to 
mean practically the history of philosophy, but the 
creative spirit had left her. She became more and^ 



more a philosophy which contained no real thought. 
She reflected, indeed, on the results achieved by the 
individual sciences, but she lost the power of 
thought about fundamental problems. 

She looked back with condescending pity on the 
rationalism which she had outstripped. She prided 
herself on being able to trace her descent through 
Kant, on having been shown by Hegel the inner 
meaning of history, and on being at work to-day in 
close sympathy with the natural sciences. But for 
all that she was poorer than the poorest rationalism, 
because she now carried on in imagination only, and 
not in reality, the recognized work of philosophy, 
which the latter had practised so zealously. 
Rationalism, for all its simplicity, had been a ^ 
working philosophy, but philosophy herself had 
now become, for all her insight, merely a pedantic / 
philosophy of degenerates. She still played, indeed, 
some sort of role in schools and universities, but she 
had no longer any message for the great world. 

In spite of all her learning, she had become a 
stranger to the world, and the problems of life which 
occupied men and the whole thought of the age had 
no part in her activities. Her way lay apart from 
the general spiritual life, and just as she derived no 
stimulus from the latter, so she gave none back. 
Refusing to concern herself with fundamental 



problems, she contained no fundamental philo- 
sophy which could become a philosophy of the 

From this impotence came the aversion to all 
generally intelligible philosophizing which is so\ 
characteristic of her. Popular philosophy was for 
her merely a review, prepared for the use of the 
crowd, simplified, and therefore rendered inferior, 
of the results given by the individual sciences which 
she had herself sifted and put together in view of a 
future theory of the universe. She was wholly 
unconscious of several things, viz., that there is a 
popular philosophy which arises out of such a 
review ; that it is just the province of philosophy to 
deal with the primary, deeper questions about which 
individuals and the crowd are thinking, or ought to 
be thinking, to apply to them more comprehensive 
and more thorough methods of thought, and then 
restore them to general currency ; and, finally, that 
the value of any philosophy is in the last resort to be 
measured by its capacity, or incapacity, to trans- 
form itself into a living philosophy of the people. 

Whatever is deep is also simple, and can bev 
reproduced as such, if only its relation to the whole j 
of reality is preserved. It is then something! 
abstract, which secures for itself a many-sided life 
as soon as it comes into contact with facts. 



Whatever of inquiring thought there was among 
the general pubHc was therefore compelled to 
languish, because our philosophy refused either to 
acknowledge or to help it. It found in front of it a 
deep chasm which it could not cross. 

Of gold coinage, minted in the past, philosophy- 
had abundance ; hypotheses about a soon to be r 
developed theological theory of the universe filled 
her vaults like unminted bullion ; but food with 
which to appease the spiritual hunger of the present 
she did not possess. Deceived by her own riches, 
she had neglected to plant any ground with nourish- 
ing crops, and therefore, ignoring the hunger of the f 
age, she left the latter to its fate. 

That pure thought never managed to construct 
a theory of the universe of an optimistic, ethicalj 
character, and to build up on that for a foundation^ 
the ideals which go to produce civilization, was not* 
the fault of philosophy ; it was a fact which became \ 
evident as thought developed. But philosophy was 
guilty of a wrong to our age in that it did not admit 
the fact, but remained wrapped up in its illusion, 
as though this were really a help to the progress of 

The ultimate vocation of philosophy is to be the 
guide and guardian of the general reason, and it was 
her duty, in the circumstances of the time, to confess 



to our world that ethical ideals were no longer 
supported by any general theory of the universe, 
but were, till further notice, left to themselves, and ^ ^ 
must make their way in the world by their own V 
innate power. She ought to have shown us that 
we have to fight on behalf of the ideals on which our 
civilization rests. She ought to have tried to give 
these ideals an independent existence by virtue of 
their own inner value and inner truth, and so to keep 
them alive and active without any extraneous help t^ 
from a corresponding theory of the universe. No 
efiort should have been spared to direct the attention 
of the cultured and the uncultured alike to the 
problem of the ideals of civiHzation. 

But philosophy philosophized about everything 
except civilization. She went on working undeviat- 
ingly at the establishment of a theoretical view of 
the universe, as though by means of it everything 
could be restored, and did not reflect that this theory, 
even if it were completed, would be constructed only 
out of history and science, and would accordingly 
be unoptimistic and unethical, and would remain for 
ever an " impotent theory of the universe," which 
could never call forth the energies needed for the 
establishment and maintenance of the ideals of 

So little did philosophy philosophize about 



civilization that she did not even notice that she 
herself and the age along with her were losing more 
and more of it. In the hour of peril the watch- 
man who ought to have kept us awake was 
himself asleep, and the result was that we put up no 
fight at all on behalf of our civilization. 




The unfree economic position of the modem man. The undeveloped 
condition of the modern man. The modern man's want of humanity. 
The lack of spiritual independence in the man of to-day. 

Even if the abdication of thought has been, as we 
have seen, the decisive factor in the collapse of our 
civilization, there are yet a number of other causes 
which combine with it to hinder our progress in this 
regard. They are to be found in the field of 
spiritual as well as in that of economic activity, and 
depend, above all, on the interaction between the 
two, an interaction which is unsatisfactory and 
continually becoming more so. 

The capacity of the modern man for progress 
in civilization is diminished because the circum- 
stances in which he finds himself placed injure him 
psychically and stunt his personality. 

The development of civilization comes about — to 
put it quite generally — by individual men thinking 
out ideals which aim at the progress of the whole, 
and then so fitting them to the reaHties of life that 



they assume the shape in which they can influence 
most effectively the circumstances of the time. A 
man's abiHty to be a pioneer of progress, that is, to 
understand what civiHzation is and to work for it, 
depends, therefore, on his being a thinker and on his 
being free. He must be the former if he is to be 
capable of comprehending his ideals and putting 
them into shape. He must be free in order to be in 
a position to launch his ideals out into the general 
life. The more completely his activities are taken 
up in any way by the struggle for existence, the more 
strongly will the impulse to improve his own condi- 
tion find expression in the ideals of his thought. 
Ideals of self-interest then get mixed up with and 
spoil his ideals of civilization. 

Material and spiritual freedom are closely bound 
up with one another. Civilization presupposes free 
men, for only by free men can it be thought out and 
brought to realization. 

But among mankind to-day both freedom and the 
capacity for thought have been sadly diminished. 

If society had so developed that a continually 
widening circle of the population could enjoy a 
modest, but well-assured, condition of comfort, 
civilization would have been much more helped 
than it has been by all the material conquests which 
are lauded in its name. These do, indeed, make 



mankind as a whole less dependent upon nature, 
but at the same time they diminish the number of 
free and independent lives. The artisan who was 
his own master becomes the factory hand through 
the compulsion of machinery. Because in the 
complicated business world of to-day only under- 
takings with abundant capital behind them can 
maintain their existence, the place of the small, 
independent dealer is being taken more and more 
completely by the employee. Even the classes 
which still possess a larger or smaller amount of 
property or maintain a more or less independent 
activity get drawn more and more completely into 
the struggle for existence because of the insecurity 
of present conditions under the economic system of 

The lack of freedom which results is made worse ^ 
still because the factory system creates continually 
growing agglomerations of people who are thereby 
compulsorily separated from the soil which feeds 
them, from their own homes and from nature. 
Hence comes serious psychical injury. There is 
only too much truth in the paradoxical saying that 
abnormal life begins with the loss of one's own 
field and dwelling-place.v 

Civilization is, it is true, furthered to a certain 
extent by the self-regarding ideals produced by the 



groups of people who unite and co-operate in defence 
of their similarly threatened interests in so far as 
they seek to obtain an improvement in their material, 
and thereby also in their spiritual, environment. 
But these ideals are a danger to the idea of civiliza- 
tion as such, because the form which they assume 
is either not at all, or very imperfectly, determined 
by the really universal interests of the community. 
The consideration of civilization as such is held 
back by the competition between the various self- 
regarding ideals which go under its name. 

To the want of freedom we have to add the evil 
of overwork. For two or three generations numbers 
of individuals have been living as workers merely, v 
not as human beings. Whatever can be said in a 
general way about the moral and spiritual signifi- 
cance of labour has no bearing on what they have 
to do. An excessive amount of labour is the rule 
to-day in every department of industry, with the 
result that the labourer's spiritual element cannot 
possibly thrive. This overwork hits him indirectly 
even in his childhood, for his parents, caught in the 
inexorable toils of work, cannot devote themselves 
to his up-bringing as they should. Thus his 
development is robbed of something which can 
never be made good, and later in life, when he him- 
self is the slave of over-long hours, he feels more and 



more the need of external distractions. To spend ^/ 
the time left to him for leisure in self-cultivation, or 
in serious intercourse with his fellows or with books, 
requires a mental coUectedness and a self-control 
which he finds very difficult. Complete idleness, 
forgetfulness, and diversion from his usual activities^ ' 
are a physical necessity. He does not want to 
think, and seeks not self-improvement, but enter- 
tainment, that kind of entertainment, moreover, ^ 
which makes least demand upon his spiritual 

The mentality of this mass of individuals, 
spiritually relaxed and incapable of self-collected- 
ness, reacts upon all those institutions which ought 
to serve the cause of culture, and therewith of 
civilization. The theatre takes a second place 
behind the pleasure resort or the picture show, and 
the instructive book behind the diverting one. An 
ever increasing proportion of periodicals and news- 
papers have to accommodate themselves to the 
necessity of putting their matter before their 
readers in the shape which lets it be assimilated 
most easily. A comparison of the average news- 
papers of to-day with those of fifty or sixty years 
ago shows how thoroughly such publications have 
had to change their methods in this respect. 

When once the spirit of superficiality has pene-- 



trated into the institutions which ought to sustain 
the spiritual life, these exercise on their part a 
reflex influence on the society which they have 
brought to this condition, and force on all ahke this 
state of mental vacuity. 

How completely this want of thinking power has\ 
become a second nature in men to-day is shown by^ 
the kind of sociability which it produces. When 
two of them meet for a conversation each is careful 
to see that their talk does not go beyond generalities 
or develop into a real exchange of ideas. No one 
has anything of his own to give out, and everyone 
is haunted by a sort of terror lest anything original 
should be demanded from him. 

The spirit produced in such a society of never- 
concentrated minds is rising among us as an ever 
growing force, and it results in a lowered conception 
of what man should be. In ourselves, as in others^ 
we look for nothing but vigour in productive work, 
and resign ourselves to the abandonment of any 
higher ideal. 

When we consider this want of freedom and of 
mental concentration, we see that the conditions of 
life for the inhabitants of our big cities are as 
unfavourable as they could be. Naturally, then, 
those inhabitants are in most danger on their 
spiritual side. It is doubtful whether big cities 




have ever been foci of civilization in the sense that 
in them there has arisen the ideal of a man well and 
truly developed as a spiritual personality ; to-day,; 
at any rate, the condition of things is such that true 
civilization needs to be rescued from the spirit that 
issues from them and their inhabitants. 

But, besides the hindrance caused to civilization 
by the modern man's lack of freedom and of the 
power of mental concentration, there is a further 
hindrance caused by his imperfect development. 
The enormous increase of human knowledge and 
power, in specialized thoroughness as well as in ex- 
tent, necessarily leads to individual activities being 
limited more and more to well-defined departments. 
Human labour is organized and co-ordinated so. 
that specialization may enable individuals to make \ 
the highest and most effective possible contribution. ' 
The results obtained are amazing, but the spiritual* 
significance of the work for the worker suffers J? 
There is no call upon the whole man, only upon some ,■ 
of his faculties, and this has a reflex effect upon hi|l 
nature as a whole. The faculties which build up 
personality and are called out by comprehensive 
and varied tasks are ousted by the less comprehen- 
sive ones, which from this point of view are, in the 



general sense of the word, less spiritual. The artisan 
of to-day does not understand his trade as a whole 
in the way in which his predecessor did. He no 
longer learns, like the latter, to work the wood or the 
metal through all the stages of manufacture ; many 
of these stages have already been carried out by 
men and machines before the material comes into 
his hands. Consequently his reflectiveness, hisi 
imagination, and his skill are no longer called out! 
by ever varying difficulties in the work, and his( 
creative and artistic powers are atrophied. In 
place of the normal self-consciousness which is 
promoted by work into the doing of which he must 
put his whole power of thought and his whole 
personality, there comes a self-satisfaction which is 
content with a fragmentary ability which, it may be 
admitted, is perfect, and this self-satisfaction is 
persuaded by its perfection in mastering details to 
overlook its imperfection in dealing with the whole. 
In all professions, most clearly perhaps in the 
pursuit of science, we can recognize the spiritual 
danger with which specialization threatens not only 
individuals, but the spiritual life of the community. 
It is already noticeable, too, that education is 
carried on now by teachers who have not a wide 
enough outlook to make their scholars understand 
the interconnection of the individual sciences, and 



to be able to give them a mental horizon as wide as 
it should be. 

Then, as if specialization and the organization of 
work, where it is unavoidable, were not already 
injurious enough to the soul of the modern man, it 
is pursued and built up where it could be dispensed 
with. In administration, in education, and in every 
kind of calling the natural sphere of activity is 
narrowed as far as possible by rules and super- 
intendence. How much less free in many countries 
is the elementary school teacher of to-day compared 
with what he was once ! How lifeless and impersonal 
has his teaching become as a result of all these 
limitations ! 

Thus through our methods of work we have 
suffered loss spiritually and as individuals just in 
proportion as the material output of our collective 
activity has increased. Here, too, is an illustration 
of that tragic law which says that every gain brings 
with it, somehow or other, a corresponding loss. 

But man to-day is in danger not only through 
his lack of freedom, of the power of mental con- 
centration, and of the opportunity for all-round 
development : he is in danger of losing his humanity. 

The normal attitude of man to man is made very 



difficult for us. Owing to the hurry in which we 
live, to the increased facilities for intercourse, and 
to the necessity for living and working with many 
others in an overcrowded locality, we meet each 
other continually, and in the most varied relations, 
as strangers. Our circumstances do not allow us to| 
deal with each other as man to man, for the limita- 
tions placed upon the activities of the natural man 
are so general and so unbroken that we get accus- 
tomed to them, and no longer feel our mechanical, 
impersonal intercourse to be something that is 
unnatural. We no longer feel uncomfortable that 
in such a number of situations we can no longer be 
men among men, and at last we give up trying to be 
so, even when it would be possible and proper. 

In this respect, too, the soul of the townsman is 
influenced most unfavourably by his circumstances, 
and that influence, in its turn, works most 
unfavourably on the mentality of society. 

Thus we tend to forget our relationship with our 
fellows, and are on the path towards inhumanity. 
Wherever there is lost the consciousness that every^ 
man is an object of concern for us just because he is 
man, civilization and morals are shaken, and thqi 
advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a\ 
question of time. 

As a matter of fact, the most utterly inhuman 


thoughts have been current among us for two 
generations past in all the ugly clearness of language 
and with the authority of logical principles. There ^ 
has been created a social mentality which dis- 
courages humanity in individuals. The courtesy,^ 
produced by natural feeling disappears, and in itsi ^ 
place comes a behaviour which shows entire/ 
indifference, even though it is decked out more or 
less thoroughly in a code of manners. The stand4 
offishness and want of sympathy which are shown sq 
clearly in every way to strangers are no longer felt as 
being really rudeness, but pass for the behaviour ^\ 
of the man of the world. Our society has also ceased 
to allow to all men, as such, a human value and a 
human dignity ; many sections of the human race 
have become merely raw material and property in, 
human form. We have talked for decades with 
ever increasing light-mindedness about war and 
conquest, as if these were merely operations on a » 
chess-board ; how was this possible save as the result ^\ 
of a tone of mind which no longer pictured to itself ' 
the fate of individuals, but thought of them only as J ' 
figures or objects belonging to the material world ?> ^ 
When the war broke out the inhumanity within us 
had a free course. And what an amount of insulting 
stuff, some decently veiled, some openly coarse, 
about the coloured races, has made its appearance 
during the last decades, and passed for truth and 



reason, in our colonial literature and our parlia- 
ments, and so become an element in general public 
opinion 1 Twenty years ago there was a discussion 
in one of our Continental parliaments about some 
deported negroes who had been allowed to die of 
hunger and thirst ; and there was no protest or 
comment when, in a statement from the tribune, it 
was said that they " had been lost " (" eingegangen " 
or " creve^^), as though it were a question of cattle ! 
In the education and the school books of to-day 
the duty of humanity is relegated to an obscure 
corner, as though it were no longer true that it is the 
first thing necessary in the training of personality, 
and as if it were not a matter of great importance 
to maintain it as a strong influence in our human 
race against the influence of outer circumstances. 
It has not been so always. There was a time when 
it was a ruling influence not only in schools, but in 
literature, even down to the book of adventures. 
Defoe's hero, Robinson Crusoe, is continually 
reflecting on the subject of humane conduct, and he 
feels himself so responsible for loyalty to this duty 
that when defending himself he is continually 
thinking how he can sacrifice the smallest number 
of human lives ; he is so faithful, indeed, to this duty 
of humanity, that the story of his adventures 
acquires thereby quite a peculiar character. Is 



there among works of this kind to-day a single one 
in which we shall find anything like it ? 

* * 

Another hindrance to civilization to-day is the 
over-organization of our public life. 

While it is certain that a properly ordered 
environment is the condition and, at the same time, 
the result of civilization, it is also undeniable that, 
after a certain point has been reached, external ^ 
organization is developed at the expense of spiritual 
life. Personality and ideas are then subordinated 
to institutions, when it is really these which ought to 
influence the latter and keep them inwardly alive. 

If a comprehensive organization is established in 
any department of social life, the results are at first 
magnificent, but after a time they fall off. It is the 
already existing resources which are realized at the 
start, but later on the destructive influence of such 
organization on what is living and original is clearly 
seen in its natural results, and the more consistently 
the organization is enlarged, the more strongly its 
effect is felt in the repression of creative and spiritual ^ 
activity. There are modern States which cannot 
recover either economically or spiritually from the 
paralysing effects of a concentration which dates 
from a very early period of their history. 



The conversion of a wood into a park and its- 
maintenance as such may be a step towards carrying" 
out several different objects, but it is all over then 
with the rich vegetation which would assure its 
future condition in nature's own way. 

Political, religious and economic associations aim 
to-day at forming themselves in such a way as willj 
combine the greatest possible inner cohesion with 
the highest possible degree of external activity. 
Constitution, discipline, and everything that belongs 
to administration are brought to a perfection 
hitherto unknown. They attain their object, but 
just in proportion as they do so these centres of 
activity cease to work as living organizations, and 
come more and more to resemble perfected machines. 
Their inner life loses in richness and variety because 
the personalities of which they are composed must-/ 
needs decay in character. 

Our whole spiritual life nowadays has its course 
within organizations. From childhood up the man 
of to-day has his mind so full of the thought of 
discipline that he loses the sense of his own indivi- 
duality and can only see himself as thinking in the 
spirit of some group or other of his fellows. Ay 
thorough discussion between one idea and another 
or between one man and another, such as constituted 
the greatness of the eighteenth century, is never met 



with now. But at that time fear of pubHc opinion^' 
was a thing unknown. All ideas had then to justify 
themselves to the individual reason. To-day it is 
the rule — and no one questions it — always to take'* 
into account the views which prevail in organizedv 
society. The individual starts by taking it for 
granted that both for himself and his neighbours 
there are certain views already established which they 
cannot hope to alter, views which are determined, 
by nationality, creed, political party, social position, 
and other elements in one's surroundings. These! 
views are protected by a kind of taboo, and are not 
only kept sacred from criticism, but are not ai 
legitimate subject of conversation. TJiis kind of 
intercourse, in which we mutually abjure our I 
natural quality as thinking beings, is euphemistically 
described as respect for other people's convictions,! 
as if there could be any convictions at all where! 
there is no thought. 

The modern man is lost in the mass in a way ^ 
which is without precedent in history, and this is 
perhaps the most characteristic trait in him. His 
diminished concern about his own nature makes 
him as it is susceptible, to an extent that is almost 
pathological, to the views which society and its 
organs of expression have put, ready made, into 
circulation. Since, over and above this, society, 



with its well-constructed organization, has becomcj 
a power of as yet unknown strength in the spiritual 
life, man's want of independence in the face of it 
has become so serious that he is almost ceasing to 
claim a spiritual existence of his own. He is like* 
a rubber ball which has lost its elasticity, and pre- 
serves indefinitely every impression that is made 
upon it. He is under the thumb of the mass, and he i 
draws from it the opinions on which he lives, \ 
whether the question at issue is national or political 
or one of his own belief or unbelief. 

Yet this abnormal subjection to external influ- i/ 
ences does not strike him as being a weakness. He 
looks upon it as an achievement, and in his unlimited 
spiritual devotion to the interests of the community 
he thinks he is preserving the greatness of the modern 
man. He intentionally exaggerates our natural 
social instincts into something fantastically great, v 

It is just because we thus renounce the indefea- 
sible rights of the individual that our race can 
neither produce new ideas nor make current onesK' 
serviceable for new objects ; its only experience is/ 
that prevailing ideas obtain more and more autho- 
rity, take on a more and more one-sided develop- ^ 
ment, and live on till they have produced their last 
and most dangerous consequences. 

Thus we have entered on a new mediaeval period. 



The general determination of society has put free- 
dom of thought out of fashion, because the majority 
renounce the privilege of thinking as free personali- 
ties, and let themselves be guided in everything 
by those who belong to the various groups and ^ 

Spiritual freedom, then, we shall recover only 
when the majority of individuals become once more 
spiritually independent and self-reliant, and dis- 
cover their natural and proper relation to those 
organizations in which their souls have been 
entangled. But liberation from the Middle Ages 
of to-day will be a much more difficult process than 
that which freed the peoples of Europe from the 
first Middle Ages. The struggle then was against 
external authority established in the course of ' 
history. To-day the task is to get the mass of 
individuals to work themselves out of the condition 
of spiritual weakness and dependence to which they < 
have brought themselves. Could there be a harder 
task ? 

Moreover, no one as yet clearly perceives what a 
condition of spiritual poverty is ours to-day. Every 
year the spread of opinions which have no thought 
behind them is carried further by the masses, and 
the methods of this process have been so perfected, 
and have met with such a ready welcome, that our 



confidence in being able to raise to the dignity of 
public opinion the silliest of statements, wherever 
it seems necessary to get them currently accepted, 
has no need to justify itself before acting. 

During the war the control of thought was made 
complete. Propaganda definitely took the place of 

With independence of thought thrown overboard, * 
we have, as was inevitable, lost our faith in truth. 
Our spiritual life is disorganized, for the over- 
organization of our external environment leads to 
the organization of our absence of thought. "^ 

Not only in the intellectual sphere, but in the 
moral also, the relation between the individual 
and the community has been upset. With the 
surrender of his own personal opinion the modern 
man surrenders also his personal moral judgment. 
In order that he may find good what the mass 
declares to be such, whether in word or deed, and 
may condemn what it declares to be bad, he sup- 
presses the scruples which stir in him. He does not 
allow them to find utterance either with others or 
with himself. There are no stumbling-blocks which 
his feeling of unity with the herd does not enable 
him to surmount, and thus he loses his judgment in 
that of the mass, and his own morality in theirs. 

Above all, he is thus made capable of excusing 



everything that is meaningless, cruel, unjust, or bad 
in the behaviour of his nation. Unconsciously to 
themselves, the majority of the members of our 
barbarian civilised States give less and less time to 
reflection as moral personalities, so that they may 
not be continually coming into inner conflict with 
their fellows as a body, and continually having to 
get over things which they feel to be wrong. 

Public opinion helps them by popularizing the 
idea that the actions of the community are not to be 
judged so much by the standards of morality as by 
those of expediency, but they suffer injury to their 
souls. If we find among men of to-day only too 
few whose human and moral sensibility is still 
undamaged, the chief reason is that the majority 
have offered up their personal morality on the altar 
of their country, instead of remaining at variance 
with the mass and acting as a force which impels 
the latter along the road to perfection. 

Not only between the economic and the spiritual, 
then, but also between the mass of men and 
individuals, there has developed a condition of 
unfavourable action and reaction. In the days of 
rationalism and serious philosophy the individual 
got help and support from society through the 
general confidence in the victory of the rational and 
moral, which society never failed to acknowledge 


as something which explained and justified itsel 
Individuals were then carried along by the mass 
we are stifled by it. The bankruptcy of the civil 
lized State, which becomes more manifest every 
decade, is ruining the man of to-day. The demorali- 
zation of the individual by the mass is in full swing. 

The man of to-day pursues his dark journey in a 
time of darkness, as one who has no freedom, no 
mental coUectedness, no all-round development, as 
one who loses himself in an atmosphere of inhu- 
manity, who surrenders his spiritual independence 
and his moral judgment to the organized society in 
which he lives, and who finds himself in every direction 
up against hindrances to the temper of true civiliza- 
tion. Of the dangerous position in which he is placed 
philosophy has no understanding, and therefore 
makes no attempt to help him. She does not even 
urge him to reflection on what is happening to himself. 

The terrible truth that with the progress of 
history and the economic development of the world 
it is becoming not easier, but harder, to develop true 
civilization, has never found utterance. 




What is civilization ? Origin of the unethical conception of civiliza- 
tion. Our sense of reality. Our historical sense. Nationalism. National 
civilization. Our misleading trust in facts and organization. The true 
sense for reality. 

This question ought to have been pressing itself 
on the attention of all men who consider themselves 
civilized, but it is remarkable that in the world's 
literature generally one hardly finds that it has 
been put at all until to-day, and still more rarely 
is any answer given. It was supposed that there 
was no need for a definition of civilization, since 
we already possessed the thing itself. If the 
question was ever touched upon, it was considered 
to be sufficiently settled with references to history 
and the present day. But now, when events are 
bringing us inexorably to the consciousness that we 
live in a dangerous medley of civilization and 
barbarism, we must, whether we wish to or not, 
try to determine the nature of true civilization. 

For a quite general definition we may say that 
civilization is progress, material and spiritual 
progress, on the part of individuals as of the mass. 



In what does it consist ? First of all in a lessening 
of the strain imposed on individuals and on the mass 
by the struggle for existence. The establishment of 
as favourable conditions of living as possible for all 
is a demand which must be made partly for its own 
sake, partly with a view to the spiritual and moral 
perfecting of individuals, which is the ultimate 
object of civilization. 

The struggle for existence is a double one : man has 
to assert himself in nature and against nature, and 
similarly also among his fellow-men and against them. 

A diminution of the struggle is secured by streng- 
thening the supremacy of reason over both external 
nature and human nature, and making it subserve 
as accurately as possible the ends proposed. 

Civilization is then twofold in its nature : it realizes 
itself in the supremacy of reason, first, over the forces 
of nature, and, secondly, over the dispositions of men. 

Which of these kinds of progress is most truly 
progress in civilization ? The latter, though it is the 
least open to observation. Why ? For two reasons. 
First, the supremacy which we secure by reason over 
external nature represents not unqualified progress, 
but a progress which brings with its advantages also 
disadvantages which may work in the direction of 
barbarism. The reason why the economic circum- 
stances of our time endanger our civilization is to be 
sought for partly in the fact that we have pressed 



into our service natural forces which can be 
embodied in machines. But with that there must 
be such a supremacy of reason over the dispositions 
of men that they, and the nations which they form, 
will not use against one another the power which the 
control of these forces gives them, and thus plunge 
one another into a struggle for existence which is 
far more terrible than that between men in a state - 
of nature. 

A normal claim to be civilized can, then, only be 
reckoned as valid when it recognizes this distinction 
between what is essential in civilization and what is 

Both kinds of progress can, indeed, be called / 
spiritual in the sense that they both rest upon a \ 
spiritual activity in man, yet we may call the j 
supremacy over natural forces material progress ) 
because in it material objects are mastered and 
turned to man's use. The supremacy of reason over 
human dispositions, on the other hand, is a spiritual 
achievement in another sense, in that it means the 
working of spirit upon spirit, i.e., of one section 
of the power of reflexion upon another section of it. ^ 

And what is meant by the supremacy of the 
reason over human dispositions ? It means that 
both individuals and the mass let their willing be 
determined by the material and spiritual good of 
the whole and the individuals that compose it ; that 



is to say, their actions are ethical. Ethical progress 
is, then, that which is truly of the essence of civiliza- 
tion, and has only one significance ; material 
progress is that which is not of the essential at all, 
and may have a twofold effect on the development of 
civilization. This moral conception of civilization 
will strike some people as rationalistic and old- 
fashioned. It accords better with the spirit of our 
times to conceive of civilization as a natural manifes- 
tation of life in the course of human evolution, but 
one with most interesting complications. We are 
concerned, however, not with what is ingenious, but 
with what is true. In this case the simple is the 
true — the inconvenient truth with which it is our 
laborious task to deal. 

The attempts to distinguish between civilization 
as what the Germans call " Kultur " and civiliza- 
tion as mere material progress aim at making the 
world familiar with the idea of an unethical form 
of civilization side by side with the ethical, and at 
clothing the former with a word of historical 
meaning. But nothing in the history of the word 
" civilization " justifies such attempts. The word, 
as commonly used hitherto, means the same as the 
German " Kultur ", viz., the development of man 
to a state of higher organization and a higher 



moral standard. Some languages prefer one word ; 
Others prefer the other. The German usually 
speaks of "Kultur", the Frenchman usually of 
" civilisation ", but the establishment of a difference 
between them is justified neither philologically nor 
historically. We can speak of ethical and unethical 
" Kultur " or of ethical and unethical " civilisa- 
tion ", but not of " Kultur " and " civilisation ". 

But how did it come about that we lost the idea 
that the ethical has a decisive meaning and value 
as part of civilization ? 

All attempts at civilization hitherto have been a 
matter of processes in which the forces of progress 
were at work in almost every department of life. 
Great achievements in art, architecture, adminis- 
tration, economics, industry, commerce, and coloni- 
zation succeeded each other with a spiritual impetus 
which produced a higher conception of the universe. 
Any ebb of the tide of civilization made itself felt 
in the material sphere as well as in the ethical and 
spiritual, earlier, as a rule, in the former than in the 
latter. Thus in Greek civilization there set in as 
early as the time of Aristotle an incomprehensible 
arrest of science and political achievement, whereas 
the ethical movement only reached its completion 
in the following centuries in that great work of 
education which was undertaken in the ancient 



world by the Stoic philosophy. In the Chinese, 
Indian and Jewish civilizations ability in dealing 
with material things was from the start, and always 
remained, at a lower level than the spiritual an( 
ethical efforts of these races. 

In the movement of civilization which began with^ 
the Renaissance, there were both material and 
spiritual-ethical forces of progress at work side by 
side, as though in rivalry with each other, and this 
continued down to the beginning of the nineteenth 
century. Then, however, something unprecedented 
happened : man's ethical energy died away, while 
the conquests achieved by his spirit in the material 
sphere increased by leaps and bounds. Thus for 
several decades our civilization enjoyed the great 
advantages of its material progress while as yet it 
hardly felt the consequences of the dying down of 
the ethical movement. People lived on in the 
conditions produced by that movement without 
seeing clearly that their position was no longer a 
tenable one and preparing to face the storm that 
was brewing in the relations between the nations 
and within the nations themselves. In this way 
our own age, having never taken the trouble to 
reflect, arrived at the opinion that civilization 
consists primarily in scientific, technical and artistic 
achievements, and that it can reach its goal without 
ethics, or, at any rate, with a minimum of them. 



Public opinion bowed down before this merely 
external conception of civilization because it was 
exclusively represented by persons whose position in 
society and scientific culture seemed to show them to 
be competent to judge in matters of the spiritual life. 


He * 

What was the result of our giving up the 
ethical conception of civilization, and therewith 
all attempts to bring reasoned ethical ideals into 
effective relation with reality ? It was that instead 
of using thought to produce ideals which fitted 
in with reality, we left reality without any ideals 
at all. Instead of discussing together the essential 
elements, such as population, State, Church, 
society, progress, which decide the character of our 
social development and that of mankind generally, 
we contented ourselves with starting from what is 
given by experience. Only forces and tendencies 
which were already at work were to be considered. 
Fundamental truths and convictions which ought 
to produce logical or ethical compulsion we would 
no longer acknowledge. We refused to believe that 
any ideas could be applicable to reality except those 
derived from experience. Thus ideals which had 
been knowingly and intentionally lowered domi- 
nated our spiritual life and the whole world. 



How we glorified our practical common-sense, 
which was to give us such power in dealing with the 
world ! Yet we were behaving, really, like boys who 
give themselves up exultingly to the forces of nature 
and whizz down a hill on their toboggan without 
asking themselves whether they will be able to steer 
their vehicle successfully when they come to the 
next bend or the next unexpected obstacle. 

It is only a conviction which is based upon 
reasoned ethical ideals that is capable of producing 
free activity, i.e., activity deliberately planned with 
a view to its object. In proportion as ideals taken 
from the workaday world are combined with it, 
reality influences reality. But then the human 
soul acts merely as an agent of debasing change. 

Events which are to produce practical results 
within us are worked upon and moulded by our 
mentality. This mentality has a certain character, 
and on that character depends the nature of those 
value-judgments which rule our relation to facts. 

Normally this character is to be found in the 
reasoned ideas which our reflection upon reality 
brings into existence. If these disappear there is 
not left a void in which " events in themselves " can 
affect us, but the control of our mentality passes now 
to the opinions and feelings which hitherto have 
been ruled and kept under by our reasoned ideas. 
When the virgin forest is cut down, brushwood 



springs up where the big trees were formerly. 
Whenever our great convictions are destroyed their 
place is taken by smaller ones which carry out in 
inferior fashion the functions of the former. 

With the giving up of ethical ideals which accom- 
panies our passion for reality our practical efficiency 
is not, therefore, improved, but diminished. It does 
not make the man of to-day a cool observer and 
calculator such as he supposes himself to be,'for he is 
under the influence of opinions and emotions which 
are created in him by facts. All unconsciously he 
mixes with what is the work of his reason so "much of 
what is emotional that the one spoils the other. 
Within this circle movethe judgments and impulses 
of our society, whether we deal with the largest ques- 
tions or the smallest. Individuals and nations alike, 
we deal indiscriminately with real and imaginary 
values, and it is just this confused medley of realand 
unreal, of sober thought and capacity for enthusiasm 
for the unmeaning, that makes the mentality of the 
modern man so puzzling and so dangerous. 

Our sense of reality, then, means this, that, as a 
result of emotional and short-sighted calculations 
of advantage, we let one fact issue immediately in 
another, and so on indefinitely. As we are not 
consciously aiming at any definitely planned goal, 
our activity may really be described as a kind of 
natural happening. 



We react to facts in the most irrational way. 
Without plan or foundations we build our future 
into the circumstances of the time and leave it 
exposed to the destructive effects of the chaotic 
jostling that goes on amongst them. " Firm ground , 
at last '* ! we cry, and sink helpless in the stream 
of events. 

The blindness with which we endure this fate is 
made worse by our belief in our historical sense, I -^ 
which, in this connection, is nothing else than our | 
sense of reality prolonged backwards) We believe 
ourselves to be a critical generation which, thanks 
to its thorough knowledge of the past, is in a 
position to understand the direction which events 
are destined to take from the present to the future. 
We add to the ideals which have been taken from 
existing reality others which we borrow from history. 

The achievements of historical science reached by 
the nineteenth century do, indeed, deserve our 
admiration, but it is another question whether our 
generation, for all its possession of an historical 
science, possesses a true historical sense. 

Historical sense, in the full meaning of the term, 
implies a critical objectivity in the face of far-off and 
recent events alike. To keep this faculty free from » 
the bias of opinions and interests when we are \ 



estimating facts is a power which even our 
historians do not possess. As long as they are 
dealing with a period so remote that it has no bearing 
on the present they are critical so far as the views 
of the school to which they belong allow it. But 
if the past stands in any real connection with 
" to-day ", we can perceive at once in their estimate 
the influence of their particular standpoint, rational, 
religious, social or economic. 

It is significant that while during the last few 
decades the learning of our historians has, no doubt, 
increased, their critical objectivity has not. Previous 
investigators kept this ideal before their eyes in 
much greater purity than have those of to-day ; we 
have gone so far that we no longer seriously make 
the demand that in scientific dealings with the past 
there shall be a suppression of all prejudices which 
spring from nationality or creed. It is quite 
common nowadays to see the greatest learning 
bound up with the strongest bias. In our historical 
literature the highest positions are occupied by 
works written with propagandist aims. 

So little educative influence has science had on 
our historians that they have often espoused as 
passionately as anyone the opinions of their own 
people instead of calling the latter to a thoughtful 
estimate of the facts, as was their duty to their 
profession ; they have remained nothing but men 



of learning. They have not even started on the task 
for which they entered the service of civiUzation, and 
the hopes of civiHzation, which in the middle of the 
nineteenth century rested on the rise of a science of 
history, have been as little fulfilled as those which 
were bound up with the demand for national States 
and democratic forms of government. 

The generation that has been brought up by 
teachers such as these has naturally not much idea 
of an elevated or active conception of events. 
Accurately viewed, its characteristic feature is not 
so much that we understand our past better than 
earlier generations understood theirs, but rather that 
we attribute to the past an extraordinarily increased 
meaning for the present. Now and again we 
actually substitute it for the latter. It is not enougl^ 
for us that what has been is present in its results inj 
what now is ; we want to have it always with us, I 
and to feel ourselves determined by it. \ 

In this effort to be continually experiencing our 
historical process of becoming, and to acknowledge 
it, we replace our normal relation to the past by an 
artificial one, and wishing to find within the past the 
whole of our present, we misuse it in order to deduce 
from it, and to legitimize by an appeal to it, our 
claims, our opinions, our feelings and our passions. 
Under the very eyes of our historical learning there 
springs up a manufactured history for popular use, 



in which the current national and confessional ideas ' 
are unreservedly approved and upheld, and our 
school history books become regular culture beds of 
historical lies. 

The misuse of history is a necessity for us. The 
ideas and dispositions which rule us cannot be 
justified by reason ; nothing is left for us but to give 
them foundations in history. 

It is significant that we have no real interest in 
what is valuable in the past. Its great spiritual 
achievements are mechanically registered, but we do 
not let ourselves be touched by them. Still less do 
we accept them as a heritage ; nothing has any 
value for us except what can be squared with our 
plans, passions, feelings, and aesthetic moods of 
to-day. With these we live ourselves by lies into 
the past, and then assert with unshaken assurance 
that we have our roots in it. 

This is the character of the reverence we pay to 
history. Blinded by what we consider or declare 
to be past and done with, we lose all sense for what 
is to happen, so that of nothing can we say : " It is 
finished," nothing now gets accomplished. Again | 
and again we let what is past rise up artificially in I 
what is present, and endow bygone facts with a j ^ 
persistence of being which makes wholly impossible ' ^ 
the normal development of our peoples. Just as 
our sense of reality makes us lose ourselves in 


present-day events, so does our historical sense 
compel us to do the same in those of the past. 

From these two things, our sense of reality and ; 
our historical sense, is born the nationalism to 1 
which we must refer the external catastrophe in 
which the decadence of our civilization finds its ; 

What is nationalism ? It is an ignoble patriotism, 
exaggerated till it has lost all meaning, which bears 
the same relation to the noble and healthy kind as 
the fixed idea of an imbecile does to normal 

How does it develop among us ? 

About the beginning of the nineteenth century 
the course of thought gave the national State its 
rightful position, starting for this from the axiom 
that it, as a natural and homogeneous organism, was 
better calculated than any other to make the ideal 
of the civilized State a working reality. In Fichte's 
addresses to the German nation the nation-State is 
summoned to the bar of the moral reason and learns 
that it has to submit in all things to the latter. It 
gives the necessary promise and straightway receives 
a commission to bring the civilized State into 
existence. It is given emphatically to understand 
that it must recognize as its highest task the con- 



tinuous and steady development of the purely 
human element in the nation's life. It is to seek 
greatness by representing the ideas which can bring 
healing to the nations. Its citizens are urged to 
show their membership of it not through the lower, 
but through the higher, patriotism, that is, not to 
overvalue its external greatness and power, but to 
be careful to take for their aim " the unfolding of 
what is eternal and Godlike in the world," and to see 
that their objects coincide with the highest aims of 
humanity. Thus national feeling is placed under 
the guardianship of reason, morality and civilization. 
The cult of patriotism as such is to be considered as 
barbarism ; it does, indeed, announce itself to be 
such by the purposeless wars which it necessarily 
brings in its train. 

In this way the idea of nationality was raised to 
the level of a valuable ideal of civilization. When 
civilization began to decline, its other ideals all fell 
also, but the idea of nationality maintained itself 
because it had transferred itself to the sphere of 
reality. It incorporated henceforward all that 
remained of civilization, and became the ideal 
which summed up all others. Here, then, we have 
the explanation of the mentality of our age, which 
concentrates all the enthusiasm of which it is cap- 
able on the idea of nationality, and believes itself to 
possess in that all moral and spiritual good things. 
p.c. 4g B 


But with the decay of civilization the character 
of the idea of nationahty changed. The guardian- 
ship exercised over it by the other moral ideals to 
which it had hitherto been subordinate now ceased, 
since these were themselves on trial, and the 
nationalist idea began a career of independence. 
It asserted, of course, that it was working in the 
service of civilization, but it was, in truth, only an 
idea of reality with a halo of civilization round it, 
and it was guided by no ethical ideals, but only by 
the instincts which deal with reality. 

That reason and morality shall not be allowed to 
contribute a word to the formation of nationalist 
ideas and aspirations is demanded by the mass 
of men to-day as a sparing of their holiest 

If in earlier times the decay of civilization did not 
produce any such confusion in the sentiments of the 
various nations, this was because the idea of 
nationality had not then been raised in the same 
way to be the ideal of civilization. It was, there- 
fore, impossible that it should insinuate itself into 
the place of the true ideals of civilization, and 
through abnormal nationalist conceptions and dis- 
positions bring into active existence an elaborate 
system of uncivilization. 

That in nationalism we have to do not so much 
with things as with the unhealthy way in which they 



are dealt with in the imagination of the crowd, is 
clear from its whole behaviour. It claims to be 
following a policy of practical results (Realpolitik) ; 
in reality it by no means represents the uncom- 
promisingly businesslike view of all the questions 
of home and foreign policy, but side by side with 
its egoism displays a certain amount of enthusiasm. 
Its practical policy is an over-valuation of certain 
questions of territorial economic interests, an over- 
valuation which has been elevated to a dogma and 
idealized, and is now supported by popular senti- 
ment. It fights for its demands without having 
established any properly thought-out calculation of 
their real value. In order to be able to dispute the 
possession of millions of value, the modern State 
loaded itself with armaments costing hundreds of 
millions. Meaning to care for the protection and 
extension of its trade, it loaded the latter with 
imposts which imperilled its power of competing 
with its rivals much more than did any of the 
measures taken by those rivals. 

Its practical politics were, therefore, in truth 
impracticable politics, because they allowed popular 
sentiment to come in, and thereby made the simplest 
questions insoluble. This style of politics put 
economic interests in the shop window, while it kept 
in the warehouse the ideas about greatness and 
conquest which belong to nationalism. 

51 xz 


Every civilized State, in order to increase its 
power, gathered allies wherever it could. Thus 
half-civilized and uncivilized races were summoned 
by civilized ones to fight against the civilized neigh- 
bours of the latter, and these helpers were not > 
content with the subordinate role which had been 
assigned to them. They acquired more and more 
influence on the course of events, till they were at 
last in a position to decide when the civilized nations 
of Europe should begin to fight each other about 
them. Thus has Nemesis come upon us for aban- 
doning our wishes and betraying to the uncivilized 
world all that we still possessed of things that were 
of universal value. 

It was significant of the unhealthy character of 
nationalism's " practical " politics that it tried in 
every possible way to deck itself out with a tinsel 
imitation of idealism. The struggle for power 
became one for right and civilization ; the alliances 
for the promotion of their selfish interests which 
various nations made with one another against all 
the rest were made to appear to be friendships and 
spiritual affinities. As such they were dated back 
into the past, even though history had a great deal 
more to say about hereditary quarrels than about 
spiritual relationships. 



Finally, nationalism was not content with putting 
aside, in the sphere of politics generally, all attempts 
to bring into existence a really civilized humanity ; 
it distorted the very idea of civilization itself and 
talked of national civilization. 

Once there was what was known just simply as 
civilization, and every civilized nation strove to 
possess it in its purest and most fully developed 
form. In this respect nationality had in the idea 
of civilization at that time something much more 
original and less spoilt than it has in the same idea 
to-day. If, in spite of this, there was no impulse 
among the nations to separate the spiritual life of 
each from that of its neighbours, we have a proof 
that nationality is not in itself the strong element 
in the people that demanded this. Such a claim as 
is made to-day to have a national civilization is an 
unhealthy phenomenon. It presupposes that the 
civilized peoples of to-day have lost their healthy 
nature, and no longer follow instincts, but theories. 
They percuss and sound their souls to such an 
extent that these are no longer capable of any 
natural action. They analyse and describe them 
so continuously that in thinking of what they ought 
to be they forget what they actually are. Questions 
of spiritual differences between races are discussed 
so subtly, and with such obstinacy and dogmatism, 
that the talk works like an obsession, and the 



peculiarities that are said to exist make their 
appearance like imaginary diseases. 

In every department of life more and more effort 
is devoted to making clearly visible in the results 
which follow from them the emotions, the ideas, and 
the reasonings of the mass of the people. Any 
peculiarity preserved and fostered in this way shows 
that its natural counterpart has perished. The i 
individual element in the personality of a people | 
no longer, as something unconscious or half conscious, ] 
plays with varying lights on the totality of the \ 
nation's spiritual life. It becomes an artifice, a I 
fashion, a self-advertisement, a mania. There is bred j 
in the nation a mass of thought, the serious results 
of which in every department become more evident 
year by year. The spiritual life of some of the 
leading civilized nations has already, in comparison 
with earlier days, taken on a monotonous tone such 
as makes an observer feel anxious. 

The unnatural character of this development 
shows itself not only in its results, but in the part 
which it allows to be played by conceit, self- 
importance, and self-deception. Anything valuable 
in a personality or a successful undertaking is 
attributed to some special excellence in the national 
character. Foreign soil is assumed to be incapable 
of producing the same or anything similar, and in 
most countries this vanity has grown to such a 



height that the greatest foUies are no longer beyond 
its reach. 

It goes without saying that there follows a serious j 
decline in the spiritual element in the national; 
civilization. The spirituality is, moreover, only a 
kind of disguise ; it has in reality an avowedly \ 
materialist character. It is a distillation from all 
the external achievements of the nation in question: 
and appears in partnership with its economic and 
political demai^ds. While alleged to be grounded 
in the national peculiarities, nationalist civilization 
will not, as we should normally expect, remain 
limited to the nation itself ; it feels called upon to 
impose itself upon others and make them happy ! 
Modern nations seek markets for their civilization, 
as they do for their manufactures ! 

National civilization, therefore, is matter for f 
propaganda and for export, and the necessary 
publicity is secured by liberal expenditure. The ; 
necessary phrases can be obtained ready-made and \ 
need only be strung together. Thus the world has j 
inflicted on it a competition between national I 
civilizations, and between these civilization itself 
comes off badly. 

The nations of Europe entered the Middle Ages 
side by side as the heirs of the Greco-Roman world, 
and lived side by side with the freest mutual inter- 
course through the Renaissance, the period of the 



Illuminati, and of the philosophy of more recent 
times. But we no longer beheve that they, with 
their offshoots in the other continents, form an 
indivisible unit of civilization. If, however, in this 
latest age, the differences in their spiritual life have 
begun to stand out more distinctly, the cause of it is 
that the level of civilization has sunk. When the 
tide ebbs, shallows which separate bodies of deep 
water become visible ; while the tide is flowing they 
are out of sight. 

How closely the nations which form the great I 
body of civilized humanity are still interrelated \ 
spiritually is shown by the fact that they have all \ 
side by side suffered the same decadence. 

With our sense of reality is bound up, further, the 
false confidence which we have in facts. We live in 
an atmosphere of optimism, as if the contradictions 
which show themselves in the world arranged them- 
selves automatically so as to promote well-thought- 
out progress, and reconciled themselves in syntheses 
in which the valuable parts of the thesis and the 
antithesis coalesced. 

In justification of this optimism appeal is made, 
both rightly and wrongly, to Hegel. It cannot be 
denied that he is the spiritual father of our sense of 
reality ; he is the first thinker who tried to be just 



to things as they exist. We have been trained by 
him to reahze the method of progress in thesis, anti- 
thesis, and synthesis as they show themselves in the 
course of events. But his optimism was not a 
simple optimism about facts, as ours is. He lived 
still in the spiritual world of rationalism, and believed 
in the power of ethical ideas worked out by reason ; 
that was why he believed also in the certainty of 
uninterrupted spiritual progress. And it was because 
this was something upon which he could rely that 
he undertook to show how it was to be seen in the 
successive phases of events, and at the same time 
how it made itself a reality in the stream of outward 
facts. By emphasizing, however, the progressive 
purpose, which he finds immanent in the course of 
■events, so strongly that it is possible to forget the 
ethical-spiritual presuppositions of his belief in 
progress, he is preparing the way for the despiritual- 
ized optimism about reality which has for decades 
been misleading us. Between the facts themselves 
there is nothing but an endless series of contradic- 
tions. The fresh mediating fact in which they 
counteract each other so as to make progress 
possible they cannot of themselves produce. This 
fact can only assert itself if the contradictions 
resolve themselves in a reasoned view in which there 
are ethical ideas about the condition of things which 



it is sought to realize. These are the formative 
principles for the new element which is to arise out 
of the contradictories, and it is only in this reasoned 
ethical view that the latter cease to be blind, leading 
to no issue. 

It was because we assumed the existence of 
principles, of progress, in the facts, that we viewed 
the advance of history, in which our future was 
being prepared, as progress in civilization, even 
though evolution condemned our optimism. And 
even now, when facts of the most terrible character 
cry out loudly against it, we shrink from giving 
up our creed. It no longer, indeed, gives us 
any real enlightenment, but the alternative, 
which bases optimism on belief in the ethical 
spirit, means such a revolution in our mode of 
thought that we find it difficult to take it into 

With our reliance upon facts is bound up our 
reliance on organizations. The activities and the 
aims of our time are penetrated by a kind of obses- 
sion that if we could only succeed in perfecting or 
reforming in one direction or another the institutions 
of our public and social life, the progress demanded 
by civilization would begin of itself. We are, 
indeed, far enough from unanimity as to the plan 
needed for the reform of our arrangements : one 
section sketches out an anti-democratic plan ; 



Others believe that our mistake lies in the fact that 
democratic principles have not yet been applied 
consistently ; others, again, see salvation only in a 
Socialist or Communist organization of society. 
But all agree in attributing our present condition,, 
with its absence of true civilization, to a failure of 
our institutions ; all look for the attainment of such 
civilization to a new organization of society ; all 
unite in thinking that with new institutions there 
would arise a new spirit. 

* * 

In this terrible confusion are entangled not 
only the unreflecting masses, but also many of 
the most earnest amongst us. The materialism 
of our age has reversed the relation between the 
spiritual and the actual. It believes that some- 
thing with spiritual value can result from the 
working of facts. It was even expected that the 
war would bring us a spiritual regeneration ! In 
reality, however, the relation between them works in 
the opposite direction. A spiritual element of real 
value can, if it is present, influence the moulding of 
reality so as to bring about desired results, and can j 
thus produce facts in support of itself. All institu- ^{ ) 
tions and organizations have only a relative signifi- h 
cance.? With the most diverse social and political v 


arrangements, the various civilized nations have all 
sunk to the same depth of barbarism. What we 
have experienced, and are still experiencing, must 
surely convince us that the spirit is everything and 
that institutions count for very little. Our institu- 
tions are a failure because the spirit of barbarism 
is at work in them. The best planned improve- 
ments in the organization of our society (though we 
are quite right in trying to secure them) cannot help 
xis at all until we become at the same time capable 
of imparting a new spirit to our age. 

The difficult problems with which we have to deal, 
even those which lie entirely in the material and 
economic sphere, are in the last resort only to be 
solved by an inner change of character. I The wisest 
reforms in organization can only carry them a little 
nearer solution, never to the goal. The only 
conceivable way of bringing about a reconstruction 
of our world on new lines is first of all to become new 
men ourselves under the old circumstances, and then 
as a society in a new frame of mind so to smooth out 
the opposition between nations that a condition of 
true civilization may again become possible. Every- 
thing else is more or less wasted labour, because we 
are thereby building not on the spirit, but on what 
is merely external. 

In the sphere of human events which decide the 
future of mankind reality consists in an inner 



conviction, not in given outward facts. Firm 
ground for our feet we find in reasoned ethical 
ideals. Are we going to draw from the spirit 
strength to create new conditions and turn our 
faces again to civilization, or are we going to con- 
tinue to draw our spirit from our surroundings and 
go down with it to ruin ? That is the fateful question 
with which we are confronted. 

The true sense for reality is that insight which tells 
us that only through ethical ideas about things can 
we arrive at a normal relation to reality. Only so 
can man and society win all the power over events 
that they are able to use. Without that power we 
are, whatever we may choose to do, delivered over 
into bondage to them. 

What is going on to-day between nations and 
within them throws a glaring illumination upon this 
truth. The history of our time is characterized by 
a lack of reason which has no parallel in the past. 
Future historians will one day analyse this history 
in detail, and test by means of it their learning 
and their freedom from prejudice. But for all 
future times there will be, as there is for to-day, 
only one explanation, viz., that we sought to live 
and to carry on with a civilization which had no 
ethical principle behind it. 




Civilization-ideals have become powerless. Evolution and decay in 
the history of civilization. The reform of institutions and the reform 
•of convictions. The individual as the sole agent of the restoration of 
civilization. The difficulties which beset the restoration of civilization. 

The ethical conception of civilization, then, is 
the only one that can be justified. 

But where is the road that can bring us back from 
barbarism to civilization ? Is there such a road at 

The unethical conception of civilization answers : 
" No." I To it all symptoms of decay are symptoms ? 
of old age, and civilization, just like any other natural \ 
process of growth, must after a certain period of 
time reach its final end. There is nothing, therefore, ; 
for us to do, so it says, but to take the causes of this 
as quite natural, and do our best at any rate to find 
interesting the unedifying phenomena of its senility, 
which testify to the gradual loss of the ethical 
character of civilization. 

In the thinking then which surrenders itself to 
our sense of reality, optimism and pessimism are 
inextricably intermingled. ^ If our optimism about 




reality is proved untenable, the optimism which 
thinks that continuous progress evolves itself among 
the facts as such, then the spirit which from above 
contemplates and analyses the situation turns with- 
out much concern to the mild pessimistic supposition 
that civilization has reached its Indian summer. 

The ethical spirit cannot join in this little game of 
*' Optimism or pessimism ? " It sees the symptoms 
of decay as what they really are, viz., something 
terrible. It asks itself with a shudder what will 
become of the world if this dying process really goes 
on unchecked. The condition of civilization is a 
source of pain to it, for civilization is not an 
object which it is interesting to analyse, but the 
hope on which its thoughts fly out over the future 
existence of the race. Belief in the possibility of a 
renewal of civilization is an actual part of its life ; 
that is why it can no longer quiet itself with what 
contents the sense of reality as it hovers between 
optimism and pessimism. 

Those who regard the decay of civilization as 
something quite normal and natural console them- 
selves with the thought that it is not civilization, 
but a civilization, which is falling a prey to dissolu- 
tion ; that there will be a new age and a new race in 
which there will blossom a new civilization. But 
that is a mistake. The earth no longer has in 
reserve, as it had once, gifted peoples as yet unused, 



who can relieve us and take our place in some 
distant future as leaders of the spiritual life. We 
already know all those which the earth has to dis- 
pose of. There is not one among them which is not 
already taking such a part in our civilization that 
its spiritual fate is determined by our own. All of 
them, the gifted and the ungifted, the distant and 
the near, have felt the influence of those forces of 
barbarism which are at work among us. All of 
them are, like ourselves, diseased, and only as we 
recover can they recover. 

It is not the civilization of a race, but that of 
mankind, present and future alike, that we must 
give up as lost, if belief in a rebirth of our civilization 
is a vain thing. 

But it need not be so given up. If the ethical is 
the essential element in civilization, decadence 
changes into renaissance as soon as ethical activities 
are set to work again in our convictions and in the 
ideas which we undertake to stamp upon reality. 
The attempt to bring this about is well worth 
making, and it should be world-wide. 

It is true that the difficulties that have to be 
reckoned with in this undertaking are so great that 
only the strongest faith in the power of the ethical 
spirit will let us venture on it. 

First among them towers up the inability of our 
generation to understand what is and must be. 



The men of the Renaissance and the lUuminati of 
the eighteenth century drew courage to desire the 
renewal of the world through ideas from their con- 
viction of the absolute indefensibility of the material 
and spiritual conditions under which they lived. 
Unless with us, too, the many come to some such 
conviction, we must continue incapable of taking in 
hand this work, in which we must imitate them. 
But the many obstinately refuse to see things as they 
are, and hold with all their might to the most 
optimistic view of them that is possible. For this 
power, however, of idealizing with continually 
lowering ideals the reality which is felt to be ever 
less and less satisfying, pessimism also is partly 
responsible. Our generation, though so proud oi^ 
its many achievements, no longer believes in th^ 
one thing which is all-essential : the spiritual 
advance of mankind. Having given up the expec- 
tation of this, it can put up with the present age 
without feeling such suffering as would compel it, 
for very pain, to long for a new one. What a taskt 
it will be to break the fetters of unthinking optimism 
and unthinking pessimism which hold us prisoners, 
and so to do what will pave the way for the renewal^ 
of civilization ! 

A second difficulty besetting the work which lies 
before us is that it is a piece of reconstruction. The 
ideas of civilization which our age needs are not new 

F.C. 65 ' 



and strange to it. They have been in the possession 
of mankind already, and are to be found in many an 
antiquated formula. We have fundamentally no- 
thing else to do than to restore to them the respect 
in which they were once held, and again regard them 
seriously as we bring them into relation with the 
reality which lies before us for treatment. 

To make what is used up usable — is there a 
harder task ? " It is an impossible one," says' 
history. " Never hitherto have worn-out ideas risen 
to new power among the peoples who have worn V\ 
them out. Their disappearance has always been I 
a final one." ' 

That is true. In the history of civilization we 
find nothing but discouragement for our task. Any- 
one who finds history speaking optimistically lends 
hier a language which is not her own. 

Yet from the history of the past we can infer only 
w^hat has been, not what will be. Even if it proves 
that no single people has ever lived through the 
decay of its civilization and a rebirth of it, we know 
at once that this, which has never happened yet, 
must happen with us, and therefore we cannot be 
content to say that the reasoned ethical ideas on 
which civilization rests get worn out in the course 
of history, and console ourselves with the reflection 
that this is exactly in accordance with the ordinary 
processes of nature. We require to know why it has j 

66 ^ 


SO happened hitherto, and to draw an explanation, 
not from the analogy of nature, but from the laws of 
spiritual life. We want to get into our hands the 
key of the secret, so that we may with it unlock the 
new age, the age in which the worn out becomes 
again unworn and the spiritual and ethical can no 
longer get worn out. We must study the history 
of civilization otherwise than as our predecessors 
did, or we shall be finally lost. 

Why do not thoughts which contribute to I f 
civilization retain the convincing power which they i 
once had, and which they deserve on account of 
their content ? Why do they lose the evidentialj 
force of their moral and rational character ? Whyj 
do traditional truths cease to be realities and pass 
from mouth to mouth as mere phrases ? 

Is this an unavoidable fate, or is the well drying I / 
up because our thinking did not go down to the 1 1 
permanent level of the water ? 

Moreover, it is not merely that the past survives 
among us as something valueless ; it may cast a 
poisonous shade over us. There are thoughts on 
which we have never let our minds work directly 
because we found them ready formulated in history. 
Ideas which we have inherited do not let the truth 

67 »« 



which is in them come out into active service, but ' 
show it through a kind of dead mask. The worn- 
out achievements which pass over from a decadent 
civiHzation into the current of a new age often, 
become Hke rejected products of metaboHsm, and^- 
act as poisons. 

Granted that the Teutonic nations received a 
powerful stimulus to civilization at the Renaissance 
by reverting to the ideas of Greco-Roman thinkers, 
not less true is it that for many centuries they had 
been kept by that same Greco-Roman civilization in 
a condition of spiritual dependence which was wholly 
in contradiction to their native character. They 
took over from it decadent ideas which were for a 
long time a hindrance to their normal spiritual life, 
and thence came that strange mixture of strength 
and weakness which is the chief characteristic of the 
Middle Ages. The dangerous elements in the 
Greco-Roman civilization of the past still show 
themselves in our spiritual life. It is because 
Oriental and Greek conceptions which have had 
their day are still current among us that we bleed 
to death over problems which otherwise would have 
no existence for us. How much we suffer from the 
I one fact that to-day and for several centuries past 
our thoughts about religion have been under the 
hereditary foreign domination of Jewish transcen- 
.dentalism and Greek metaphysics, and, instead of 



being able to express themselves naturally, have 
suffered continual distortion ! 

Because ideas get worn out in this way, and in 
this condition hinder the thinking of later genera- 
tions, there is no continuity in the spiritual progress 
of mankind, but only a confused succession of ups 
and downs. The threads get broken, or knotted, 
or lost, or when tied up again get tied wrongly. 
Hitherto it has been thought possible to interpret 
this up-and-down movement optimistically because 
it was universally held that the Renaissance and 
the age of the Illuminati were quite natural 
successors of the Greco-Roman civilization, and it 
was assumed further that, as a permanent result of 
this, renewed civilizations would spring up in the 
place of exhausted ones, and thus continual progress 
be assured. But this generalization cannot justi- 
fiably be drawn from such observations. It was 
because new peoples came on the scene, who had 
been only superficially touched by the decadent 
civilizations and now produced others of their 
own, that it was possible to see this succession of 
ups and downs ending in an ascent. As a matter 
of fact, however, our newer civilization was not 
in any organic connection with the Greco-Roman, 
even if it did take its first steps with the help of the 
crutches which the latter provided ; it may be 



described more truly as the reaction of a healthy 
spirit against the worn-out ideas which were thus 
offered to it. The essential element in the process 
was the contact of what was worn out with the fresh 
thought of young peoples. 

To-day, however, all our thought is losing its 
power in its contact with the worn-out ideas of our 
expiring civilization, or — in the case of the Hindus 
and the Chinese — of our own and other expiring 
civilizations. The up-and-down movement will end, \ 
therefore, not in slow progress, but in unbroken I ' 
descent — unless we can succeed in giving the worn- \ 
out ideas a renewal of their youth. 

Another great difficulty in the way of the regene- 
ration of our civilization lies in the fact that it 
must be an internal process, and not an external 
as well, and that, therefore, there is no place for 
healthy co-operation between the material and the 
spiritual. From the Renaissance to the middle 
of the nineteenth century the men who carried 
on the work of civilization could expect help 
towards spiritual progress from achievements in the 
sphere of external organization. Demands in each 
of these spheres stood side by side in their 
programme and were pushed on simultaneously. 
They were convinced that while working to trans- 



form the institutions of public life they were 
producing results which would call forth the 
development of the new spiritual life. Success in 
one sphere strengthened at once the hopes and the 
energies that were at work in the other. They 
laboured for the progressive democratization of the 
State with the idea of thereby^spreading through the 
world the rule of grace and justice. 

We, who have lived to see the spiritual bank- 
ruptcy of all the institutions which they created, can 
no longer work in this way simultaneously at the 
reform of institutions and the revival of the spiritual 
element. The help which such co-operation would 
give is denied us. We cannot even reckon any 
j longer on the old co-operation between knowledge 
'and thought. Once these two were allies. The 
latter fought for freedom and in so doing made a 
road for the former, and, on the other hand, all 
the results attained by knowledge worked for the 
general good of the spiritual life in that the reign 
of law in nature was more and more clearly 
demonstrated, and the reign of prejudice was 
becoming continually more restricted. The alliance 
also strengthened the thought that the well-being of 
mankind must be based upon spiritual laws. Thus 
knowledge and thought joined in establishing the 
authority of reason and the rational tone of mind. 



To-day thought gets no help from science, and the 
latter stands facing it independent and unconcerned. 
The newest scientific knowledge may be allied with 
an entirely unreflecting view of the universe. It 
maintains that it is concerned only with the estab- 
lishment of individual facts, since it is only by means^ 
of these that scientific knowledge can maintain its^ 
practical character ; the co-ordination of the 
different branches of knowledge and the utilization 
of the results to form a theory of the universe are, 
it says, not its business. Once every man of science 
was also a thinker who counted for something in the 
general spiritual life of his generation. Our age has 
discovered how to divorce knowledge from thought, 
with the result that we have, indeed, a science which 
is free, but hardly any science left which reflects. 

Thus we no longer have available for the renewal 
of our spiritual life any of the natural external helps 
which we used to have. We are called upon for a 
single kind of effort only, and have to work like men 
who are rebuilding the damaged foundations of a 
cathedral under the weight of the massive building. 
There is no progress in the world of phenomena to 
encourage us to persevere ; an immense revolution 
has to be brought about without the aid of any 
collateral revolutionary activities. 



Again, the renewal of civilization is hindered by i \ 
the fact that it is so exclusively the individual I IT 
personality which must be looked to as the agent ( 
in the new movement. 

The renewal of civilization has nothing to do with I J 
movements which bear the character of experiences U 
of the crowd ; there are never anything but reac- | -*-r 
tions to external happenings. But civilization canjf{ 
only revive when there shall come into being in a i 
number of individuals a new tone of mind indepen- 1 
dent of the one prevalent among the crowd and^ij 
in opposition to it, a tone of mind which will' ' 
gradually win influence over the collective one,; 
and in the end determine its character. It is only v 
an ethical movement which can rescue us from ^ 
the slough of barbarism, and the ethical comes into 
existence only in individuals. 

The final decision as to what the future of a 
society shall be depends not on how near its 
organization is to perfection, but on the degrees of 
worthiness in its individual members. The most 
important, and yet the least easily determinable, 
element in history is the series of unobtrusive general 
changes which take place in the individual disposi- 
tions of the many. These are what precede and 
cause the happenings, and this is why it is so 
difficult to understand thoroughly the men and the 



events of past times. The character and worth of 
individuals among the mass and the way they 
work themselves into membership of the whole 
body, receiving influences from it and giving others 
back, we can even to-day only partially and 
uncertainly understand. 

One thing, however, is clear. Where the collec- 
tive body works more strongly on the individual 
than the latter does upon it, the result is deteriora- 
tion, because the noble element on which everything 
depends, viz., the spiritual and moral worthiness of 
the individual, is thereby necessarily constricted 
and hampered. Decay of the spiritual and moral \ 
life then sets in, which renders society incapable of | 
understanding and solving the problems which it has | 
to face. Thereupon, sooner or later, it is involved j 
in catastrophe. 

That is the condition in which we are now, and 
that is why it is the duty of individuals to rise to a 
higher conception of their capabiUties and undertake 
again the function which only the individual can 
perform, that of producing new spiritual-ethical 
ideas. If this does not come about in a multitude 
of cases nothing can save us. 

A new public opinion must be created privately V 
and unobtrusively. The existing one is maintained l ; 
by the Press, by propaganda, by organization, and ^ 
by financial and other influences which are at its « 



disposal. This unnatural way of spreading ideas j \ 

must be opposed by the natural one, which goes^ * 

from man to man and relies solely on the truth of 

the thoughts and the hearer's receptiveness for 

new truth. Unarmed, and following the human 

spirit's primitive and natural fighting method, 

it must attack the other, which faces it, as^ 

Goliath faced David, in the mighty armour of I 

the age. 

About the struggle which must needs ensue no|f 

historical analogy can tell us much. The past has, 

no doubt, seen the struggle of the free-thinking 

individual against the fettered spirit of a whole 

society, but the problem has never presented itself 

on the scale on which it does to-day, because the 

fettering of the collective spirit as it is fettered 

to-day by modern organizations, modern unre- 

fiectiveness, and modern popular passions, is a 

phenomenon without precedent in history. 

* * 

Will the man of to-day have strength to carry 
out what the spirit demands from him, and what the 
age would like to make impossible ? 

In the over-organized societies which in a hundred 
ways have him in their power, is he destined to 
become once more an independent personality and 



to exert influence back upon them ? They will 
use every means to keep him in that condition 
of impersonality which suits them. They fear 
personality because the spirit and the truth, which 
they would like to muzzle, find in it a means of 
expressing themselves. And their power is, unfor- * 
tunately, as great as their fear. 

There is a tragic alliance between society as ah 
whole and its economic conditions. With a grini 
relentlessness those conditions tend to bring up th^ 
man of to-day as a being without freedom, without 
self-coUectedness, without independence, in short! 
as a human being so full of deficiencies that he lacks 
the qualities of humanity. And they are the lasl| 
things that we can change. Even if it should b 
granted us that the spirit should begin its work, w 
shall only slowly and incompletely gain power ove 
these forces. There is, in fact, being demanded fro 
the will that which our conditions of life refuse t 

And how heavy the tasks that the spirit has to 
take in hand ! It has to create the power of under- 
standing the truth that is really true where at 
present nothing is current but propagandist truth. 
It has to depose ignoble patriotism, and enthrone 
the noble kind of patriotism which aims at ends 
that are worthy of the whole of mankind, in circles 
where the hopeless issues of past and present 




political activities keep nationalist passions aglow 
even among those who in their hearts would fain be 
free from them. It has to get the fact that civiliza- 
tion is an interest of all men and of humanity as a 
whole recognized again in places where national 
civilization is to-day worshipped as an idol, and 
the notion of a humanity with a common civiliza- 
tion lies broken to fragments. It has to maintain 
our faith in the civilized State, even though our 
modern States, spiritually and economically ruined 
by the war, have no time to think about the 
tasks of civilization, and dare not devote their 
attention to anything but how to use every 
possible means, even those which undermine the 
conception of justice, to collect money with which 
to prolong their own existence. It has to unite 
us by giving us a single ideal of civilized man, 
and this in a world where one nation has robbed 
its neighbour of all faith in humanity, idealism, 
righteousness, reasonableness, and truthfulness, and 
all alike have come under the domination of powers 
which are plunging us ever deeper into barbarism. 
It has to get attention concentrated on civilization 
while the growing difficulty of making a living 
absorbs the masses more and more in material cares, 
and makes all other things seem to them to be mere 
shadows. It has to give us faith in the possibility of 



progress while the reaction of the economic on the 
spiritual becomes more pernicious every day and 
contributes to an ever growing demoralization. It 
has to provide us with a capacity for hope at a time 
when not only secular and religious institutions and 
associations, but the men, too, who are looked upon 
as leaders, continually fail us, when artists and men 
of learning show themselves as supporters of ^ 
barbarism, and notabilities who pass for thinkers, j 
and behave outwardly as such, are revealed, when 
crises come, as being nothing more than writers and ^ 
members of academies. 

All these hindrances stand in the path of the will f, 
to civilization. A dull despair hovers about us./? 
How well we now understand the men of the 
Greco-Roman decadence, who stood before events 
incapable of resistance, and, leaving the world to its 
fate, withdrew upon their inner selves ! Like them, IJ, 
we are bewildered by our experience of life. Like 
them, we hear enticing voices which say to us that 
the one thing which can still make life tolerable is to 
live for the day. We must, we are told, renounce 
every wish to think or hope about anything beyond 
our own fate. We must find rest in resignation. 

The recognition that civilization is founded on 
some sort of theory of the universe, and can be 
restored only through a spiritual awakening and a 
will for ethical good in the mass of mankind, compels 



US to make clear to ourselves those difficulties in the 
way of a rebirth of civilization which ordinary- 
reflection would overlook. But at the same time 
it raises us above all considerations of possibility or 
impossibility. If the ethical spirit provides a 
sufficient standing ground in the sphere of events 
for making civilization a reality, then we shall get 
civilization, provided that we return to a suitable 
theory of the universe and the convictions to which 
this properly gives birth. 

The history of our decadence preaches the truth 
that when hope is dead the spirit becomes the 
deciding court of appeal, and this truth will in 
the future find in us a sublime and noble fulfilment. 




The regeneration of our theory of the universe and the restoration of 
civilization. A reflective theory of the universe ; rationalism and 
mysticism. The optimistic-ethical theory as a theory of civilization. 
The regeneration of our ideas by reflection about the meaning of life. 

The greatest of all the spirit's tasks is to produce 
a theory of the universe {Weltanschauung*)^ for in 
such a theory all the ideas, convictions and activities 
of an age have their roots, and it is only when we 
have arrived at one which is compatible with civi- 
lization that we are capable of holding the ideas and 
convictions which are the conditions of civilization 
in general. 

What is meant by a theory of the universe ? It 
is the content of the thoughts of society and the 
individuals which compose it about the nature and 
object of the world in which they live, and the 
position and the destiny of mankind and of indivi- 
dual men within it. What significance have the 
society in which I live and I myself in the world ? 
What do we want to do in the world, what do we 

* Translated "world-view" throughout the second part of these 



hope to get from it, and what is our duty to it ? 
The answer given by the majority to these funda- 
mental questions about existence decides what the 
spirit is in which they and their age hve. 

Is not this putting too high the value of a theory 
of the universe ? 

At present, certainly, the majority do not, as a 
rule, attain to any properly thought-out theory, nor 
do they feel the need of deriving their ideas and 
convictions from such a source. They are in tune, 
more or less, with all the tones which pervade the 
age in which they live. 

But who are the musicians who have produced 
these tones ? They are the personalities who have 
thought out theories of the universe, and drawn 
from them the ideas, more or less valuable, which 
are current amongst us to-day. In this way all 
thoughts, whether those of individuals or those of 
society, go back ultimately, in some way or other, 
to a theory of the universe. Every age lives in the 
consciousness of what has been provided for it by 
the thinkers under whose influence it stands. 

Plato was wrong in holding that the philosophers 
of a State should also be its governors. Their 
supremacy is a different and a higher one than that 
which consists in taking cognizance of laws and 
ordinances and giving effect to official authority. 

P.C. 8 1 G 


They are the officers of the general staif who sit in 
the background thinking out, with more or less 
clearness of vision, the details of the battle which is 
to be fought. Those who play their part in the 
public eye are the subordinate officers who, for their 
variously sized units, convert the general directions 
of the staff into orders of the day : namely, that the 
forces will start at such and such a time, move in 
this or that direction, and occupy this or that point. 
Kant and Hegel have commanded millions who had 
never read a line of their writings, and who did not 
even know that they were obeying their orders. 

Those who command, whether it be in a large or 
a small sphere, can only carry out what is already 
in the thought of the age. They do not build the 
instrument on which they have to play, but are 
merely given a seat at it. Nor do they compose the 
piece they have to play ; it is simply put before 
them, and they cannot alter it ; they can only 
reproduce it with more or less skill and success. 
If it is meaningless, they cannot do much to improve 
it, but neither, if it is good, can they damage it 

To the question, then, whether it is personalities . 
or ideas which decide the fate of an age, the answer 1 
is that the age gets its ideas from personalities. If | 
the thinkers of a certain period produce a worthy | 
theory of the universe, then ideas pass into cur- I 



rency which guarantee progress ; if they are not 
capable of such production, then decadence sets *~ "^ 
in some form or other. Every theory of the universe 
draws after it its own special results in history. 

The fall of the Roman Empire in spite of that 
empire's having over it so many rulers of con- 
spicuous ability, may be traced ultimately to the 
fact that ancient philosophy produced no theory of 
the universe with ideas which tended to that 
empire's preservation. With the rise of Stoicism, 
as the definitive answer of the philosophic thought 
of antiquity, the fate of the world down to the 
Middle Ages was decided. The idea of resignation, 
noble idea as it is, could not ensure progress in af 
world-wide empire. The efforts of its strongest 
emperors were useless. The yarn with which they 
had to weave was rotten. 

In the eighteenth century, under the rule, in most 
places, of insignificant rococo-sovereigns and rococo- 
ministers, a progressive movement began among 
the nations of Europe which was unique in the 
history of the world. Why ? The thinkers of the 
Illuminati and of rationalism produced a worthy 
theory of the universe from which worthy ideas 
were spread among mankind. 

But when history began to shape itself in accord- 
ance with these ideas, the thought which had 



produced the progress came to a halt, and we have 
now a generation which is squandering the precious 
heritage it has received from the past, and is living 
in a world of ruins, because it cannot complete the 
building which that past began. Even had our i 
rulers and statesmen been less short-sighted than 
they actually were, they would not in the long run 
have been able to avert the catastrophe which ) 
burst upon us. Both the inner and the outer j 
collapse of civilization were latent in the circum- i 
stances produced by the prevalent view of the 1 
universe. The rulers, small and great alike, did not f 
act in accordance with the spirit of the age. 

With the disappearance of the influence exerted 
by the Aufkldrung, rationalism, and the serious 
philosophy of the early nineteenth century, the seeds 
were sown of the world-war to come. Then began 
to disappear also the ideas and convictions which 
would have made possible a solution on right hnes 
of the controversies which arise between nations. 

Thus the course of events brought us into a 
position in which we had to get along without any 
real theory of the universe. The collapse of 
philosophy and the rise and influence of scientific 
modes of thought made it impossible to arrive at 
an idealist theory which should satisfy thought. 
Moreover, our age is poorer in deep thinkers than 
perhaps any preceding one. There were a few 



Strong spirits who, with varied knowledge and with 
devoted efforts, offered the world some patchwork 
thought ; there were some dazzling comets ; but 
that was all that was granted us. Their products 
in the way of world theories were good enough to 
interest a circle of academic culture, or to delight a 
few believing followers, but the people as a whole 
were entirely untouched. 

We began, therefore, to persuade ourselves that 
it was, after all, possible to get through without any 
theory of the universe. The feeling that we needed 
to stir ourselves up to ask questions about the world 
and life, and to come to a decision upon them, 
gradually died away. In the unreflective condition \ 
to which we had surrendered ourselves, we took, to \ 
meet the claims of our own life and the nation's life, \ 
the chance ideas provided by our feeling for reality, j 
During more, than a generation and a half we * ' 
had proof enough and to spare that the theory 
which is the result of absence of theory is the most 
worthless of all, involving not only ruin to the 
spiritual life, but ruin universal. For where there 
is no general staff to think out its plan of campaign 
for any generation its subordinate officers lead it, 
as in actual warfare so in the sphere of ideas, from 
one profitless adventure to another. 

The reconstruction of our age, then, can begin 



only with a reconstruction of a theory of the 
universe. There is hardly anything more urgent 
In its claim on us than this which seems to be so far 
off and abstract. Only when we have made our- 
selves at home again in the solid thought-building 
of a theory which can support a civilization, and 
when we take from it, all of us in co-operation, ideas 
which can stimulate our life and work, only then 
can there again arise a society which shall possess 
ideals with magnificent aims and be able to bring 
these into effective agreement with reality. It is 
from new ideas that we must build history anew. 

For individuals as for the community, life without 
a theory of things is a pathological disturbance of 
the higher capacity for self-direction. 


What conditions must a theory of the universe 
fulfil to enable it to create a civilization ? 

First, and defined generally, it must be the 
product of thought. Nothing but what is born of 
thought and addresses itself to thought can be a 
spiritual power affecting the whole of mankind. 
Only what has been well turned over in the thought 
of the many, and thus recognized as truth,-'possesses 
a natural power of conviction which will work on 
other minds and will continue to be effective. 
Only where there is a constant appeal to the need 



of a reflective view of things are all man's spiritual 
capacities called into activity. 

Our age has a kind of artistic prejudice against a 
reflective theory of the universe. We are still 
children of the Romantic movement to a greater 
extent than we realize. What that movement 
produced in opposition to the Aufkldrung and to 
rationalism seems to us valid for all ages against 
any theory that would found itself solely on thought. 
In such a theory of the universe we can see before- 
hand the world dominated by a barren intellec- 
tualism, convictions governed by mere utility, and 
a shallow optimism, which together throw a wet 
blanket over all human genius and enthusiasm. 

In a great deal of the opposition which it offered 
to rationalism the reaction of the early nineteenth 
century was right. Nevertheless it remains true 
that it despised and distorted what was, in spite of 
all its imperfections, the greatest and most valuable 
manifestation of the spiritual life of man that the 
world has yet seen. Down through all circles of 
cultured and uncultured alike there prevailed at 
that time a belief in thought and a reverence for 
truth. For that reason alone that age stands 
higher than any which preceded it, and much 
higher than our own. 

At no price must the feelings and phrases of 





Romanticism be allowed to prevent our generatioii 
from forming a clear conception of what reason 
really is. It is no dry intellectualism which would 
suppress all the manifold movements of our inner 
life, but the totality of all the functions of our spirit 
in their living action and interaction. In it our 
intellect and our will hold that mysterious inter- 
course which determines the character of our 
spiritual being. These fundamental ideas which it 
produces contain all that we can feel or imagine 
about our destiny and that of mankind, and give our 
whole being its direction and its value. The! 
enthusiasm which comes from thought has the same* j 
relation to that which rises from the cauldron of 
feeling as the wind which sweeps the heights has to 
that which eddies about between the hills. If we 
venture once more to seek help from the light of 
reason, we shall no longer keep ourselves down at i 
the level of a generation which has ceased to be! 
capable of enthusiasm, but shall follow the deep and| 
noble passion inspired by great and sublime ideals.! 
This will so fill and expand our being that that by 
which we now live will seem to be merely a petty 
kind of excitement, and will disappear. 

Rationalism is more than a movement of thought 
which realized itself at the end of the eighteenth and 
the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. It is a 
necessary phenomenon in all normal spiritual life. 



All real progress in the world is in the last analysis 
produced by rationalism. 

It is true that the intellectual productions of the 
period which we designate historically as the 
rationalistic are incomplete and unsatisfactory, but 
the principle, which was then established, of basing 
our views of the universe on thought and thought 
alone, is valid for all time. Even if the tree's earliest 
fruit did not ripen perfectly, the tree itself remains] 
nevertheless, the tree of life for the life of our spirit. 

All the movements that have claimed to take the 
place of rationalism stand far below it in the matter 
of achievement. From speculative thought, from 
history, from feeling, from aesthetics, from science, 
they tried to construct a theory of the universe, 
grubbing at haphazard in the world around them 
instead of excavating scientifically. Rationalism 
alone chose the right place for its digging, and dug 
systematically, according to plan. If it found only 
metal of small value, that was because, with the 
means at its disposal, it could not go deep enough. 
Impoverished and ruined as we are because we 
sought as mere adventurers, we must make up our 
minds to sink another shaft in the ground where 
rationalism worked, and to go down through all 
the strata to see whether we cannot find the gold 
which must certainly be there. 



To think out to the end a theory of the universi 
which has been produced by thought — that is the 
only possible way of finding our bearings amid the 
confusion of the world of thought to-day. 

Philosophical, historical, and scientific questions 
with which it was not capable of dealing over- 
whelmed the earlier rationalism like an avalanche, 
and buried it in the middle of its journey. The new 
rational theory of the universe must work its way 
out of this chaos. Leaving itself freely open to the 
whole influence of the world of fact, it must explore 
every path offered by reflection and knowledge in its 
eflEort to reach the ultimate meaning of being and 
life, and to see whether it can solve some of the 
riddles which they present. 

The ultimate knowledge, in which man recognizes ^ 
his own being as a part of the All, belongs, they say, 
to the realm of mysticism, by which is meant that \ 
he does not reach it by the method of ordinary | 
reflection, but somehow or other lives himself | 
into it. 

But why assume that the road of thought must 
suddenly stop at the frontier of mysticism ? It is 
true that pure reason has hitherto called a halt 
whenever it came into this neighbourhood, for it 
was unwilling to go beyond the point at which it 
could still exhibit everything as part of a smooth, 
logical plan. Mysticism, on its side, always depre- 



ciated pure reason as much as it could, to prevent 
at all costs the idea from gaining currency that it 
was in any way bound to give an account to reason. 
And yet, although they refuse to recognize each 
other, the two belong to each other. 

It is in reason that intellect and will, which in our 
nature are mysteriously bound up together, seek 
to come to a mutual understanding. The ultimate 
knowledge that we strive to acquire is knowledge of 
life, which intellect looks at from without, will from 
within. Since life is the ultimate object of know- 
ledge, our ultimate knowledge is necessarily our 
thinking experience of life, but this does not lie 
outside the sphere of reason, but within reason itself. 
Only when the will has thought out its relation to \ 
the intellect, has come, as far as it can, into line 
with it, has penetrated it, and in it become logical, 
is it in a position to comprehend itself, so far as its 
nature allows this, as a part of the universal will-to- 
live and a part of being in general. If it merely 
leaves the intellect on one side, it loses itself in 
confused imaginings, while the intellect, which, like 
the rationalism of the past, will not allow that in ( 
order to understand life it must finally lose itself in 
thinking experience, renounces all hope of con- 
structing a deep and firmly based theory of the 



Thus reflection, when pursued to the end, leads 
somewhere and somehow to a living mysticismj 
which is for all men everywhere a necessary elemenl 
of thought. 

Doubts whether the mass of men can ever attain 
to that level of reflection about themselves and the 
world which is demanded by a reflective theory ofi 
the universe, are quite justifiable if the man of to-day 
is taken as an example of the race. But he, with 
his diminished need of thought, is a pathological 

In reality there is given in the mental endowment 
of the average man a capacity for thought which to 
the individual makes the creation of a reflective 
theory of things of his own not only possible, but 
under normal conditions even a necessity. The ■ 
great movements of illumination in ancient and 
modern times help to maintain the confident belief 
that there is in the mass of mankind a power of 
thought on fundamentals which can be roused to 
activity. This belief is strengthened by observa- 
tion of mankind and intercourse with the young. 
A fundamental impulse to reflect about the universe 
stirs us during those years in which we begin to think 
independently. Later on we let it languish, even 
though feeling clearly that we thereby impoverish f 
ourselves and become less capable of what is good. *\ 
We are like springs of water which no longer run 



because they have not been watched and have | 
gradually become choked with rubbish. 

More than any other age has our own neglected 
to watch the thousand springs of thought ; hence 
the drought in which we are pining. But if we onlyj 
go on to remove the rubbish which conceals the! 
water, the sands will be irrigated again, and life will\ 
spring up where hitherto there has been only a ■ 

Certainly there are guides and the guided in the 
department of world-theories, as in others. So far 
the independence of the mass of men remains a 
relative one. The question is only whether the 
influence of the guides leads to dependence or 
independence. The latter brings with it a develop- 
ment in the direction of truthfulness ; the former 
means the death of that virtue. 

Every being who calls himself a man is meant 
to develop into a real personality within a reflective 
theory of the universe which he has created for 

But of what character must the theory be if ideas 
and convictions about civilization are to be based 
on it ? 

That theory of the universe is optimistic which 



gives existence the preference as against non- 
existence and thus affirms Hfe as something possess- 
ing value in itself. From this attitude to the 
universe and to life results the impulse to raise 
existence, in so far as our influence can affect it, 
to its highest level of value. Thence originates 
activity directed to the improvement of the living 
conditions of individuals, of society, of nations and of 
humanity, from which spring the external achieve- 
ments of civilization, the lordship of spirit over 
the powers of nature, and the higher social organiza- 

Ethics is the activity of man directed to secure the 
inner perfection of his own personality. In itself 
it is quite independent of whether the theory of the 
universe is pessimistic or optimistic. But its sphere 
of action is contracted or widened according as it 
appears in connection with a theory of the first or 
the second type. 

In the determinist-pessimistic theory of the 
universe, as we have it in the thought of the Brah- 
mans or of Schopenhauer, ethics has nothing 
whatever to do with the objective world. It aims 
solely at securing the self-perfection of the individual 
as this comes to pass in inner freedom and dis- 
connection from the world and the spirit of the 

But the scope of ethics is extended in proportion 



as it develops and strengthens a connection with a 
theory of the universe which is affirmative toward 
the world and life. Its aim is now the inner per- 
fection of the individual and at the same time the 
direction of his activity so as to take effect on other 
men and on the objective world. It is true that in ' 
face of the objective world and its spirit ethics 
no longer holds itself up to man as an aim in itself. 
By its means man is to become capable of acting 
among men and in the world as a higher and purer 
force, and thus to do his part towards the actualiza- 
tion of the ideal of general progress. 
; Thus the optimistic-ethical theory of the universe 
works in partnership with ethics to produce civiliza- 
tion. Neither is capable of doing so by itself. 
Optimism supplies confidence that the world-process 
has somehow or other a spiritual-sensible aim, and 
that the improvement of the general relations of the 
world and of society promotes the spiritual-moral 
-.perfection of the individual. From ethics is derived 
ability to develop the purposive state of mind 
necessary to produce action on the world and society 
and to cause the co-operation of all our achievements 
to secure the spiritual and moral perfection of the 
individual which is the final end of civilization. 

Once w£ have recognized that the energies which 
spring out of a theory of the universe, and impel us to 



create a civilization, are rooted in the ethical and the 
Optimistic^ we get light on the question why and how 
our ideals of civilization got worn out. This question 
is not to be answered by good or bad analogies from 
nature. The decisive answer is that they got worn 
out because we had not succeeded in establishing the 
ethical and optimistic elements on a sufficiently firm 

If we should analyse the process in which the 
ideas and convictions that produce civilization 
reveal themselves, it would be found that whenever 
an advance has been registered, either the optimist 
or the ethical element in the theory of the universe 
has proved more attractive than usual, and has 
had as its consequence a progressive development. 
When civilization is decaying there is the same chain 
of causation, but it works negatively. The building 
is damaged or falls in because the optimist element 
or the ethical, or both, give way like a weak founda- 
tion. No amount of inquiry will give any other 
reason for the changes. All imaginable ideas and 
convictions of that character spring from optimism 
and the ethical impulse. If these two pillars are 
strong enough, we need have no fears about the 

The future of civilization depends, therefore, on 
whether it is possible for thought to reach a theory 
of the universe which will have a more secure and 



fundamental hold on optimism and the ethical 
impulse than its predecessors have had. 

We Westerners dream of a theory of the 
universe which corresponds to our impulse to 
action and at the same time justifies it. We 
have not been able to formulate such a theory 
definitely. At present we are in the state of possess- 
ing merely an impulse without any definite orienta- 
tion. The spirit of the age drives us into action 
without allowing us to attain any clear view of the 
objective world and of life. It claims our toil 
inexorably in the service of this or that end, this or 
that achievement. It keeps us in a sort of intoxi- 
cation of activity so that we may never have time 
to reflect and to ask ourselves what this restless 
sacrifice of ourselves to ends and achievements really 
has to do with the meaning of the world and of our 
lives. And so we wander hither and thither in the ; 
gathering dusk formed by lack of any definite theory / 
of the universe like homeless, drunken mercenaries, i 
and enlist indifferently in the service of the common 
and the great without distinguishing between them. 
And the more hopeless becomes the condition of the I 
world in which this adventurous impulse to action 
and progress ranges to and fro, the more bewildered 
p.c. gy H 


becomes our whole conception of things and the more 
purposeless and irrational the doings of those who] 
have enlisted under the banner of such an impulse. 

How little reflection is present in the Western 
impulse to action becomes evident when this tries to 
square its ideas with those of the Far East. For 
thought in the Far East has been constantly occu- 
pied in its search for the meaning of life, and forces 
us to consider the problem of the meaning of our 
own restlessness, the problem which we Westerners 
burke so persistently. We are utterly at a loss when 
we contemplate the ideas which are presented to us 
in Indian thought. We turn away from the 
intellectual presumption which we find there. We 
are conscious of the unsatisfying and incomplete 
elements in the ideal of .cessation from action. We 
feel instinctively that the will-to-progress is justified 
not only in its aspect as directed to the spiritual 
perfection of personality, but also in that which looks 
towards the general and material. 

For ourselves we dare to allege that we adven- 
turers, who take up an affirmative attitude toward 
the world and toward life, however great and even 
ghastly our mistakes may be, can yet show not only 
greater material, but also greater spiritual and 
ethical, contributions than can those who lie under 
the ban of a theory of the universe characterized by 
cessation from action. 



And yet, all the same, we cannot feel ourselves 
completely justified in the face of these strange 
Eastern theories. They have in them something full 
of nobility which retains its hold on us, even fasci- 
nates us. This tinge of nobility comes from the fact 
that these convictions are born of a search for a 
theory of the universe and for the meaning of life. 
With us, on the other hand, activist instincts and 
impulses take the place of a theory of the universe. 
We have no theory affirming the world and life to 
oppose to the negative theory of these thinkers, no 
thought which has found a basis for an optimistic 
conception of existence to oppose to this other, 
which has arrived at a pessimistic conception. 

The reawakening of the Western spirit must thus 
begin by our people, educated and simple alike, 
becoming conscious of their lack of a theory of the 
universe and feeling the horror of their consequent 
position. We can no longer be satisfied to make 
shift with substitutes for such a theory. What is 
the basis of the will-to-activity and progress which 
impels both to great actions and to terrible deeds, 
and which tries to keep us from reflection ? We 
must bend all our energies to the solution of this 

There is only one way in which we can hope to 
emerge from the meaningless state in which we are 



now held captive into one informed with meaning. 
Each one of us must turn to contemplate his own 
being, and we must all give ourselves to co-operative 
reflection so as to discover how our will to action and 
to progress may be intellectually based on the way 
in which we interpret our own lives and the life 
around us, and the meaning which we give to these. 

The great revision of the convictions and ideals 
in which and for which we live will only take place 
when, by constantly proclaiming them, we have 
given currency among our contemporaries to ideas 
and thoughts other and better than those by which 
they are dominated at the moment. Only thus will 
the many come to reflect about the meaning of life 
and to reorientate, revise and make over again their 
ideals of action and of progress, asking themselves 
whether these have a meaning in accord with that 
which we attribute to our life itself. This personal 
reflection about final and elemental things is the one 
and only reliable way of measuring values. My 
willing and doing have real meaning and value only 
in proportion as the aims which action sets before 
itself can be justified as being in direct accord with 
my interpretation of my own and of other life. 
All else, however much it may pass current as 
approved by tradition, usage, and public opinion, 
is vain and dangerous. 

It seems, indeed, a matter for scorn and derision 


that we should urge men to anything so remote as 
a return to reflection about the meaning of Hfe at a 
time when the sufferings and the follies of the 
nations have become so intense and so extended, 
when unemployment and poverty and starvation 
are rife, when power is being dissipated on all sides 
in the most shameless and senseless way, and when 
organized human life is dislocated in every direction. 
But only when the general population begins to 
reflect in this way will forces come into being which 
will be able to effect something to counterbalance 
all this ruin and misery. Whatever other measures 
it is attempted to carry out will have doubtful and 
altogether inadequate results. 

When in the spring the withered grey of th^ 
pastures gives place to green, this is due to thel 
millions of young shoots which sprout up freshly! 
from the old roots. In like manner the revival of 
thought which is essential for our time can only 1 
come through a transformation of the opinions and \ 
ideals of the many brought about by individual and 
universal reflection about the meaning of life and of i 
the world. 

But are we sure of being able to think out that 
affirmation of the world and of life, which is such 
a powerful impulse in us, into a theory of the world 
and of life from which a stream of energy productive 



of intelligible life and action may convincingly and 
constantly proceed ? How are we to succeed in 
doing what the spirit of the Western world during 
past generations has in vain toiled to accomplish ? 

Even if thought, once more awakened, should only 
attain to an incomplete and unsatisfying theory of 
the universe, yet this, as the truth to which we have 
ourselves worked through, would be of more value 
than a complete lack of any theory at all, or, alter- 
natively, than any sort of authoritative theory to 
which, neglecting the demands of true thought, we 
cling on account of its supposed intrinsic value 
without having any real and thorough belief in it. 

The beginning of all spiritual life of any real value 
is courageous faith in truth and open confession of 
the same. The most profound religious experience, 
too, is not alien to thought, but must be capable of 
derivation from this if it is to be given a true and 
deep basis. Mere reflectrun about the meaning of 
life has already value in itself. If such reflectioni 
should again come into being amongst us, the ideals, \ 
born of vanity and of suffering, which now flourish * 
in rank' profusion like evil weeds among the convic- 
tions of the generality of people, would infallibly 
wither away and die. How much would already be 
accomplished towards our salvation from our present 
circumstances if only we would all give up three 
minutes every evening to gazing up into the infinite 



world of the starry heavens and meditating on it, 
or if in taking part in a funeral procession we would 
reflect on the enigma of life and death, instead of 
engaging in thoughtless conversation as we follow 
behind the coffin ! The ideals, born of folly and , 
suffering, of those who make public opinion and ■ 
direct public events, would have no more power over \ 
men if they once began to reflect about eternity and / | 
mortality, existence and dissolution, and thus learnt / 
to distinguish between true and false standards,! 
between those which possess real value and those \ 


which do not. The old-time rabbis used to teach 
that the kingdom of God would come if only the 
whole of Israel would really keep a single Sabbath 
simultaneously ! How much more is it true that 
the injustice and violence and untruth, which are 
now bringing so much disaster on the human race, 
would lose their power if only a single real trace of 
reflection about the meaning of the world and of life 
should appear amongst us 1 

But is there not a danger in challenging men with 
this question about the meaning of life and in 
demanding that our impulse to action should justify 
and clarify itself in such reflection as that of which 
we have spoken ? Shall we not lose, in acceding to 
this demand, some irreplaceable element of naive 
enthusiasm ? 



We need not thus be anxious as to how strong 
how weak our impulse to action will prove to 
when it shall have arrived, as the result of intellec- 
tual reflection, at an interpretation of life. Only 
that has real meaning for life which is given as an 
element of our interpretation of life. It is not the \ 
quantity, but the quality, of activity that really ) 
matters. What is needed is that our will-to-action 
should become conscious of itself and should cease 
to work blindly. 

But perhaps, it may be objected, we shall end 
in the resignation of agnosticism, and shall be 
obliged to confess that we cannot discover any 
meaning in the universe or in life. 

If thought is to set out on its journey unhampered, \ 
it must be prepared for anything, even for arrival au^ 
intellectual agnosticism. But even if our will-to-l 
action is destined to wrestle endlessly and unavail-' 

ingly with an agnostic view of the universe and o^| 
life, still this painful disenchantment is better for itj* 
than persistent refusal to think out its position at\ 
all. For this disenchantment does, at any rate, mean 
that we are clear as to what we are doing. 

There is, however, no necessity whatever for such 
an attitude of resignation. We feel that a position 
of affirmation regarding the world and life is some- 
thing which is in itself both necessary and valuable. 
Therefore it is at least likely that a foundation can be 



found for it in thought. Since it is an innate 
element of our will-to-live, it must be possible to 
comprehend it as a necessary corollary to our inter- 
pretation of life. Perhaps we shall have to look 
elsewhere than we have done hitherto for the real 
basis of that theory of the universe which carries 
with it affirmation of the world and of life. Previous 
thought imagined that it could deduce the meaning 
of life from its interpretation of the universe. Itl 
may be that we shall be obliged to resign ourselves 
to abandon the problem of the interpretation of the 
universe and to find the meaning of our life in the 
will-to-live as this exists in ourselves. 

The ways along which we have to struggle toward I 
the goal may be veiled in darkness, yet the direction j 
in which we must travel is clear. We must reflect H 
together about the meaning of life ; we must strive | 
together to attain to a theory of the universe 
affirmative of the world and of life, in which the 
impulse to action which we experience as a necessary 
and valuable element of our being may find justifica- 
tion, orientation, clarity and depth, may receive a 
fresh access of moral strength, and be retempered, 
and thus become capable of formulating, and of 
acting on, definite ideals of civilization, inspired by 
the spirit of true humanitarianism. 



OirVii/ll^^' ^^fm^ti^ ' ' t U.U «-■ * I^VA^ 



H Schweitzer, Albert 

S4131V The decay and the restoration 

,Ec of civilization